Editor’s Note: This column is sponsored by Georgetown Square Wine and Beer (10400 Old Georgetown Road).
One of craft beer’s strongest trends in the past few years has been the explosion of barrel-aged beers. Ever since Goose Island introduced its incredible Bourbon County Stout in 1992, brewers have been making more and more barrel-aged brews. These brews often take longer to produce, and it seems that brewers enjoy making them as much as beer lovers enjoy drinking them.
Using wood barrels is nothing new in the beer industry. Belgian brewers often used wood barrels to influence their sour ales. Before prohibition, breweries used wood barrels to store their beers. Post-prohibition breweries switched to stainless steel containers so nothing would influence the beer.
The craft beer revolution changed all that. Brewers now use barrel aging as a way to add extra complexity and layers of flavor to beer. All types of barrels are used — raw oak barrels, used spirit barrels and retired red wine barrels to name a few. Brewers can use any style of beer to age in wood barrels, but typically use high alcohol styles like imperial stouts, barley wine, and double IPAs.
American brewers most commonly employ used spirit barrels and bourbon barrels. As a beer ages in a barrel, it will pick up flavors from the wood, as well as notes from the spirit that the barrel previously held. The resulting flavors are of toasted oak, vanilla, and roasted chocolate and coffee.
Since these barrel-aged beers require more time and care to produce, they often have a premium price, but their popularity with brewers and drinkers continues to grow. Here a few barrel aged beers we have in stock that I recommend you try.
Allagash Curieux, Portland, Maine — bourbon barrels
Allagash is a world-class brewery and the Curieux is the first barrel-aged beer the folks there brewed. Curieux is made by aging Tripel Ale in Jim Beam bourbon barrels for eight weeks. The result is a tasty beer with coconut and vanilla notes and hints of delicious Jim Beam bourbon. 11% A.B.V
Heavy Seas Yule Tide, Baltimore — rum barrels
My favorite spirit is rum so this brew by Heavy Seas quickly became a favorite of mine. Released as a winter seasonal, Heavy Seas brewed an Imperial Red Ale with ginger and aged the brew in Jamaican rum barrels. This beer came out absolutely delicious. With only slight hints of rum and ginger, the beer is smooth and quite drinkable for a heavy style beer. 9% A.B.V
Harviestoun Ola Dubh, Scotland — Highland Park 1991 casks Scotland
Only 20,000 bottles of this limited edition brew were produced and I was lucky enough to get a case of it. This special beer is aged for six months in casks that formerly held Highland Park 1991 vintage single malt whiskey. Using a porter as a base, this beer is dense and deep in color. It’s slightly sweet and contains delicious and smoky vanilla flavors on the palate. The whiskey-infused wood is definitely highlighted in this strong brew. 10.5% A.B.V
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