Oak barrels were the original beer vessel, the wood being dense enough to hold liquid but pliable enough to be bent into slats. Today’s stainless steel kegs are nonreactive, but early brewers scorched their wood with boiling water and even hydrochloric acid to get their barrels flavor-neutral. Now craft brewers are finding the good in wood. Because it’s porous, wood allows for very slow oxidation, which can make darker, malty beers more complex. Wood can also host microflora, bacteria that add the sourness to wild ales and lambics. The barrel’s former resident — the wine or whiskey or whatever that first made its home there — is also important. As a tenant, bourbon leaves the place smelling like vanilla, as does Cabernet Sauvignon, though to a lesser extent. Rum barrels soak up all that yummy, distilled sugar cane goodness for an aroma that is pure dark rum and flavor laced with sweet vanilla and spice notes. Port, sherry, and Asian liquors like shochu (sometimes aged in bamboo) also leave their spirits behind; some sherry casks have yeasts that will feast on a beer’s sugar, burping out phenols of exotic flavors. A boozed-up barrel can be like Viagra for beer. So without further ado, here are five craft beer primed and ready to deliver great barrel aged taste in our Craft Beer Crosscut 11.20.18: A Flight of Barrels.
Craft Beer Crosscut 11.20.18: A Flight of Barrels
Fifteen years ago, Cascade Brewing and Barrel House began stuffing some fruit and bacteria into the wooden barrels left over from an oddball project in which they recreated the journey of transcontinental journey of traditional English IPAs. That experiment resulted in the birth of a kriek that was named the best in the world by the New York Times. Cascade was off and running as leader of the sour revolution. Its Midnight Bramble will delight sour beer fans with a blend of wheat and blonde ales that has been aged in oak wine barrels for up to 18 months with black and red raspberries, fresh ginger and thyme. This lengthy process results in a unique sour ale that offers carefully layered flavors of ripe bramble fruit with a refreshing ginger lift and soft notes of lavender and pine.
If you haven’t been following along, Bruery Terreux is The Bruery’s farmhouse-style brewery where the focus is 100 percent on beers brewed with Brettanomyces yeast strains, souring bacteria such as Lactobacillus, or a bit of both. Bruery Terreux’s Oude Tart is a Flemish-style red ale aged in red wine barrels. While this is one of the more classic beer styles that Bruery Terreux makes, it’s not a style that you can find too often in the United States. Originating in style from the Flanders region of Belgium, near the French boarder, this dark, sour ale has roots deep in brewing history and predates most of the ales that have become popular in contemporary culture. It’s pleasantly sour with hints of leather, dark fruit and toasty oak.
11.8% ABV, 32 IBU
Over-the-top but surprisingly approachable, Boulevard Brewing’s twist on a whiskey barrel-aged stout starts with several types of malted barley, rye, oats and wheat. Robust flavors of vanilla, espresso, whiskey, chocolate and roasted grain are balanced by hints of date and plum, with just enough hops to round it all out. Roughly one-third of the final blend is freshly brewed beer; the rest is aged for up to a year (or more) in both first and second use whiskey casks.
Founders Brewing’s Barrel Runner is the fourth installment in the brewery’s 2018 Barrel-Aged Series. Barrel Runner, a mosaic-hopped ale aged in rum barrel-aged is preceded by Dankwood, Backwoods Bastard and KBS in the series. This is the first time the brewery has released a rum barrel-aged beer in package. “I drink tiki cocktails probably more than I should and looked to them for inspiration when creating Barrel Runner,” said Brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki in a news release. “You get a lot of bright, tropical character from the abundance of Mosaic hops plus a nice kick of oak and rum from the barrels. Add a tiny umbrella and you got yourself a beer perfect for enjoying poolside.”
11.8% ABV, 70 IBU
In 2002, Founders Brewing Co. wanted to age their double chocolate, coffee and oatmeal Breakfast Stout in bourbon barrels. A call to Jack Daniels with a request to use their barrels was accepted as long as they picked them up. The first run was a success. Something magical happened in the barrel. The recipe needed refinement since the bourbon notes were overwhelming in the beer. The solution was to create an imperial (higher alcohol content) version of Breakfast Stout. The result is Kentucky Breakfast Stout, or KBS. The aroma is full of gooey chocolate, some smoke and wood notes from the barrel. Thick, full-bodied, it leads with rich and chocolate, boozy warmth and a slight brandy sweetness. It finishes with toasty smokiness and all the depth of a four-tier chocolate cake.