Ever since Goose Island popped off with their first barrel aged beer in the 1990’s, people have been raving over these brews. Although many of us shake our heads at the mention of AB-Inbev, we have to admit, their subsidiary, Goose Island, really did create an outstanding brew through barrel aging and led the way for the craft brewers that have come since. The brews we find at new craft breweries all over the United States are increasingly interesting and creative and we have to tip our hats to GI for, in a way, starting this evolutionary movement.
There are a variety of barrels that can be used for barrel aging. After all, it’s a barrel. There are plenty of them out there, especially spirits barrels. This is due to the fact that many spirits require new oak barrels and this creates a flood of used and otherwise useless barrels. It only makes sense that many brews are created with these barrels, given the millions of barrels that are tossed away every year. In order to promote newer ideas, and of course, save the trees, brewers have taken to using these barrels for aging beer.
In addition to spirits barrels, there are plenty of wine barrels out there too. Most wine barrels have a limit of three runs, which then leaves the barrel homeless. Homeless barrels are unnecessary now thanks to the innovative practices used by craft breweries throughout the United States. With over 4,000 United States breweries, there should never be a barrel lost in the country, as every one of them has a potential place to work.
Barrel aging, just as with spirits and wine, lends a new layer to the flavor profile of each craft beer. This can result in a huge range of flavors and most brewmasters take several barrels to blend together to create a brew. Sure, they could sell each individual batch, but they want a full run that is consistent throughout, thus they blend the batches to create this run. However, that does not stop one run from being slightly different than the next. That is the nature of barrel aging, as each barrel can turn out different and you won’t always get quite the same blend. Close, but not exact.
This is a delight to craft beer aficionados, as we love trying things that are different! Learning about how each batch can vary is just one facet of why we love these brews and also why we come back time and again to see if the next run has turned out a bit differently. It’s an adventure. We learn that different types of oak provide different flavors to the beer, while the different spirits or wines that formerly lived in the barrels affect the brew as well. While some runs turn out with a higher ABV, others are mellowed out by barrel aging. Where one run has a strong aroma of vanilla and earth, the next may take on more of the fruit and tannins instead. The variety is what we love.
You’re darn right it does! Sure, we could stick with the same traditional brews every time, but why? Craft brewing is about freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom of creative thinking, and freedom of choice. Barrel aging simply affords us one more option in the process that allows us to create some amazing beer. While one beer may not be your favorite, one of your friends might love it. This opens up a pathway for discussion, which simply leads to even more ideas.
Sometimes the best reason to do something is to open up the opportunity to do something else. By introducing barrel aging, brewers open up the opportunity for fruit infused barrel-aged beer, barrel-aged heavy malt beers, and a variety of other ideas. In addition, this has led to some wineries creating brews too! The process has brought together several industries that were quite separated before. While they retain their distinct traditions, they are able to work together to create something entirely new, and we think that is just as great as the resulting beer.
Of course, we can. After all, we’ve been traveling the United States to taste several different brews and wines lately. We’re working hard to reach our own opening in West Palm Beach later this year and we love to visit the local breweries here in Florida, as well as the rest of the country to see what everyone is up to. Check out the short list below for a few great craft beers that have resulted from barrel aging.
This brew is pretty darn delicious. Aged in French and American Oak barrels and offering hints of Pinot grapes and caramel, along with a variety of other berries, this brew will be one you want to sip on the beach, or while watching a sunset. Somehow it seems to give the impression of a wine while remaining a beer. We loved it and we’re sure you will too!
Another winner from Allagash Brewing, who is well-known for their outstanding brews. This beauty is the result of barrel aging in French Oak wine barrels and the flavor profile is extensive. We were quite sad when they retired this brew, as the amazing raspberry and cherry blend was outstanding and the hints of oak were just enough to pull it all together.
This is a brew to celebrate the year with. Cigar City really pulled out all the stops for their year-end brew created with a variety of bourbon barrel and brandy barrel aged blends. The result is a testament to the success of barrel aging as a whole. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a friend, relative, or even a direct employee willing to trade a bottle, as this brew is made strictly for the employees, their family, and friends. We got lucky.
This bourbon barrel aging delight is the result of the brewmasters trip to Belgium. The cherry infused beauty is aged in bourbon barrels and given a good dose of time and love to make a perfect barrel aged brew that is based on their Local 2 craft beer. The end result is great for bottle aging as well! Nothing says “wow” more than a brew you can age a bit longer to your taste and check out the results later on.
We couldn’t possibly make a barrel aging list without including the amazing Founders Brewing Company. Once we tasted Backwoods Bastard, we just had to see what else they were up to at their facility. Frootwood is what we found and WOW. Just WOW. For starters, the art on the bottle is popping. It definitely characterizes this cherry, bourbon, and maple brew. To be honest, the bottle is so pretty we almost didn’t want to open it. However, we got over that quickly and when we opened it up we were in heaven. You really should grab a few bottles to try yourself, as we refuse to give the full details on this brew. It’s an adventure in sweet success that we would like you to take on your own.
Great! We love to hear that. That is exactly why we travel around and find these great brews for people to try. Knowing that the creativity of the craft brewing industry can inspire others is why we love the trade. Our own opening in April is coming up fast, so we hope to see you in West Palm Beach later this year. Remember to tell us about some of the great brews you’ve found so we can visit those places too!