Posted on October 27th, 2009
Barrel-aging is nothing new in the world of wine and liquor; aging beer in barrels, however, is a relatively new practice that’s gaining in popularity. Today, we’re going to take a look at how it works and some barrel-aged beers that everyone should try.
Beer is usually placed in barrels for aging after primary fermentation is complete and before it has been carbonated. A variety of barrels can be used, but brewers frequently use barrels which have previously held wine or liquor. After anywhere from several months to several years in a barrel, the beer will absorb some of the flavors and aromas left over from the wine or liquor. Then, the beer will be carbonated and bottled for your drinking enjoyment.
The barreling process adds additional complexity to the taste and aroma of a beer. Sometimes a brewer will simply age an existing beer he has in his (or her) repertoire, but many of the more adventurous will craft a recipe specially suited to benefit from the barreling process. This could be an extra malty brew that will blend well with the sweet flavors of rum or a crisp light beer that will complement the light flavors of a chardonnay.
However it is done, barrel-aged beer is an exciting area that craft brewers are exploring with enthusiasm and passion. Be sure to try one if you haven’t yet. Some of our favorites include:
Stone Brewing Co. Oaked Arrogant Bastard – The barrel-aged version of Stone’s infamous Arrogant Bastard. Trying this alongside the regular version would be a good introduction to how barrels can enhance beer.
Brooklyn Brewery Manhattan Project – This beer was a collaboration between Brooklyn Brewery and David Wondrich, drinks editor of Esquire magazine. It was aged in rye whiskey barrels for a wonderfully smoky aroma and taste.
Allagash Curieux – Aged in Jim Beam barrels for 8 weeks, this one is a must try.
Dogfish Head Burton Baton – A fantastically complex yet still light ale with notes of oak and vanilla.
Smuttynose Brewing Oaked Tripel Penetration – A great twist on a traditional Belgian style tripel. The heavy oak notes blended well with the light flavors of a tripel.