Local Beer Experts' Favorite Barrel-Aged Brews
Wooden barrels are usually associated with aging wine and until recently only a few brewers used them and then primarily to inoculate their beer with friendly bacteria to create lambic or other sour styles. But in the ever expanding world of beer flavors, an increasing number of brewers are reusing wine and spirit barrels to add flavors to their beer batches. Bourbon barrels, for example, used to be sawn in half and sold for planters. Now brewers in the US and around the world are snapping them up and using them to age and flavor various beer styles.
Aging beer in a barrel is more art than science. If beer is stored too long in a barrel it risks over oxidizing, or the beer may pick up more flavor from the barrel than the style can successfully complement. We’ve surveyed some local experts to provide us with their barrel-aged favorites.
Rich Higgins - Beer Consultant and Master Cicerone
Allagash Curieux - Curieux is Allagash's great abbey triple ale that's been aged for two months in used Jim Beam bourbon barrels. The fruity, spicy beer is imbued with beautiful hints of oak, vanilla and bourbon.
Rodenbach Grand Cru – This is a sour barrel-aged beer. It's a Flemish red ale that's aged for two years in oak vats. The vats have been used for decades so their oak flavor is neutral, but the porous wood pleasantly oxidizes the beer and the wood contains bacteria cultures (like the ones that make yogurt and pickles) which sour the beer; the result is a caramelly, red ale with hints of cherries, pepper, and Balsamic vinegar.
Eric Cripe - Managing Beer and Spirit Buyer at Jug Shop
High Water Aphotic Baltic Porter – This is my current favorite barrel-aged beer. Steve Altimari ages this beer in both bourbon and brandy barrels creating some serious complexity and a decadent mouth feel that completely balances the roasted malt flavors of the porter.
Cantillon Fou' Foune – This is my all time favorite barrel-aged beer. It’s a blend of 2 year old sour lambic that has had 1200 kilos of hand hulled apricots added to barrel for a 2 month soak. The intense funky lambic nose marries beautifully with the ripe apricot aromas and the resulting flavor is absolute perfection. It's what you wish an apricot would taste like.
Dave Hauslein - Beer Manager at Healthy Spirits
Deschutes Conflux Series #1 – Collage (Hair of the Dog Collaboration) - A blend of barrel-aged Hair of the Dog’s Fred and Adam, and Deschutes' barrel-aged limited releases Dissident and The Stoic. The dry, tart cherry and balsamic vinegar notes of The Dissident play beautifully against the rich blackstrap molasses, bourbon and roasty coffee and bitter chocolate notes provided by the other three beers. It makes a great candidate for the cellar.
Widmer Brothers’ Reserve Kill Devil Brown Ale - This imperial brown ale is brewed with palm sugar and molasses then aged in used rum barrels. It has a rich, pleasant barrel character that’s not cloying. And at 9.5% ABV, it's dangerously drinkable.
Sayre Piotrkowski - Beer Director at St. Vincent Wine Tavern
Pausa Cafe's prison brewery - P.i.L.S. (from in Saluzzo, Italy) - This traditional Bohemian-style Pilsner is lagered for 10 weeks in Slovenian oak barrels. The original Pils(e)ner beers were conditioned in oak but this was an extremely precarious and expensive practice that has long since died out in favor of stainless steel lagering vessels. Since Pausa is a not-for-profit brewery, operated by men with plenty of time on their hands, they can produce this classic Pilsner the "old, slow way." The barrels are treated with the same level of char/toast that provides the smoky notes that are common in many Croatian wines. P.i.L.S. has a clean "pils malt" aroma (think Frosted Mini Wheats) and complimented by the signature peppery spice of Saaz hops. The smoke reveals itself in the mid-palette and finish.
Note: Check the Beer Menu site for current local availability of these beers