Modern breweries traditionally use steel or copper tanks to age their brews, but by now, most craft beer drinkers have had a chance to sample a beer that has been aged in wooden barrels instead. Although used historically to great effect in Belgian sours and traditional Lambic and Flanders beers, it was only recently that modern American brewers widely adopted the practice.
One legend begins with Dougal Sharp of Scottish brewery Innis & Gunn. The original Innis & Gunn beer was “born by accident” during a distillery’s quest to create a whisky finished with ale flavors. Sharp created an ale that was stored in the barrels before liquor was placed in them for aging, at which point the beer was discarded.
But, it turns out workers on the distillery floor had been drinking the aged ale, and one day they told Sharp how good it was. Upon discovering that, he quit his job and took a year to perfect this new beer, bringing forth the style of barrel-aged beer.
It’s a good story, but the fact is that some U.S. breweries had already begun this practice, such as Goose Island, which brewed the first batch of its barrel-aged Bourbon County Stout in 1992.
However the trend began, more and more brewers are becoming enamored with the flavors and nuance that comes from aging in wine, bourbon, whiskey or even sake barrels. These days, barrel-aged offerings come from companies as large Budweiser, from large craft breweries like Samuel Adams and from micro-brewpubs like Baltimore’s Oliver Breweries.
Stouts, dopplebocks, and barleywines are typical candidates for barrel aging, because their malt character stands up nicely against the strong flavors oak barrels usually exhibit. Here we take a look at some classic examples of the style.
Bourbon County Stout: As mentioned above, Chicago’s Goose Island first brewed this big stout (14.5% ABV) back in 1992. It pours “as dark and dense as a black hole with thick foam the color of a bourbon barrel,” according to the brewery’s web site. Even better “one sip has more flavor than your average case of beer.”
Black Note Stout: This stout brewed by Bell’s Brewery in Michigan comes in at 11.5% ABV. It’s the blend of an Expedition Stout and Double Cream Stout (how can it be bad?), aged in freshly retired oak bourbon barrels for months. The result is malty notes of dark chocolate, espresso, and dried fruits.
The Angel’s Share: As a personal side note, this was the first bourbon barrel-aged beer I ever tried. The name comes from the tradition of whiskey distillers who refer to the evaporation of spirits from their barrels as “The Angel’s Share”. This Strong Ale (12.5%) from California’s Lost Abbey ages for a year in oak barrels (bourbon or brandy) before being let loose on the world.
Curieux: To make Curieux, Allagash takes their Triple Ale and ages it for eight weeks in a cold Maine cellar in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. They then mix the aged beer with a portion of fresh Triple. The result? A big, 11% ABV beauty that tastes of vanilla, sweet fruit, and, of course, bourbon.
Calabaza Blanca: Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin ages all its beers in oak barrels. They believe that “this contact with the wood gives beers unmatched depth of character, and subtleness of flavor.” The Calabaza Blanca, a Belgian Biere Blanche, is aged in oak barrels and subsequently refermented in the bottle. Coming in at just 4.8% ABV, this is one of the lowest alcohol barrel-aged beers I found. It has been described as refreshing, with earthy, funky, sour flavors and taste.
Top photo via Flickr user kingfishpies
Guinness Stout is world famous for its creamy, smooth body, and now the brewery is bringing those same attributes to its IPA....read more ›
Just in case you weren't yet tired of pictures of cats on the Internet (and really, nobody is), we have a new Instagram account for you to check out. ...read more ›
Michael McConaughey named his son after his favorite beer, and after nine years, it finally paid off. ...read more ›
This year's Great American Beer Festival was larger and more delicious than ever....read more ›
First, a Harry Potter-themed bar opens up, and now, you can enjoy a Christmas feast in the Great Hall itself. What a time for Potter fans!...read more ›
Writers and musicians have a long, storied history with alcohol, and that intimacy with the bottle shows through in the memorable lines these artists ...read more ›
Dogfish Head announced today they have sold a 15% stake in the company to a private equity company....read more ›
Make your cocktails shimmer and shine by mixing in some Unicorn Tears. ...read more ›
Big things are happening at Boston Beer Company as proved by founder Jim Koch over the weekend....read more ›
This past weekend saw the 29th Annual Great American Beer Festival come and go. Cheers to all the great beers shared at the festival and congrats to t...read more ›
The Sunland Baobab is one of the world's largest trees. Inside its hollow trunks, patrons can enjoy a drink or two at a specially crafted bar....read more ›
The world's largest commercial beer competition, the Great American Beer Festival, took place over the weekend in Denver....read more ›