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Bourbon barrel aging, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly truths

Our Journey

Bourbon barrel aging has become a widely known practice since the process gained a bit of notoriety through the Bourbon County Stout released by Goose Island.  While the sales of that brew were outstanding, there are a few truths about bourbon barrel aging that you may be interested in.  Whether the facts are good or bad, bourbon barrel aging is certainly here to stay.  We’re just here to tell you what we know.

Bourbon barrel aging counts as recycling (or maybe upcycling)!

Millions of bourbon barrels would go to waste every year if breweries weren’t willing to snap them up for bourbon barrel aging.  It is a simple fact that bourbon is aged in NEW oak barrels.  This means one run and done guys, which is sad considering how many trees are cut down to get all those barrels.  So the next time you’re sipping a bourbon barrel aged brew, remember there is a tree in the world thanking you for your patronage!

Bourbon barrels are fairly cheap to acquire

Considering the short life expectancy of a bourbon barrel (as discussed above), these barrels are pretty darn cheap to get ahold of.  This helps to keep overhead costs of new craft breweries down, which means they can spend more money creating brews and less on the equipment!  That adds up to a lot more brew and a lower price for the patrons, something we are not going to complain about!

bourbon barrel aging is popularBourbon barrels run the slight risk of souring the beer

Here is where it gets a bit sad.  It’s no secret that aging in wood can have negative effects.  Sour beer is, unfortunately, one of those effects.  Sometimes the bacteria in the wood simply creates a brew that we have to call a loss and this is sad for us.  After all, who wants to dump out an entire barrel of brew?  Not us, that’s for sure.  This is why aging in bourbon barrels is a very careful process, as brewmasters must produce enough quantity to ensure they gain the quality they desire and can cast off those that simply do not turn out well enough to be served.

For those who say “That’s not true, bacteria can’t survive in bourbon!”, just take a look at the news about beer recalls this past year from outfits who have extremely high standards.  If it can happen to the best in the industry, it can happen to anyone.  Those are also certain proof that yes, sometimes bourbon can fail us where quality and flavor are concerned.

Bourbon barrels help to provide a higher ABV and many other facets to the beer!

Naturally, we want to end this on an up note because there is no way this result is bad unless you don’t like higher ABV brews.  It is true that these barrel aged brews result in a higher ABV, a fact that cannot be helped due to the natural of the barrel’s use previously.  However, this aging process has far more intricacy than just the ABV result.  The flavor, texture, and kick of the brew are all affected and in some great ways!

bourbon barrel aging makes great beerBourbon barrel aged brews that we happen to love

After going over some of the good and bad points of the barrel aging trend, we figured you might want a list of some of the brews available on the market or in the taprooms that you can try.  While our list is certainly not all-inclusive, we’re more than happy to give you a few ideas to try!

As pictured, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is an outstanding dark beer brewed by Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. who are, quite honestly, one of the best in the business where this process is concerned.  Pictured is their brew in one of our own West Palm Brewery & Wine Vault glasses.  Yes, guys, that means we’ve tried it and we love it!

Another great one on the list is Revolution Brewing’s Straight Jacket, a bourbon barrel aged brew that leaves you wondering exactly what to classify it under.  With hints of rum and pineapple, you will have to drink a few before you decide whether to list it as a brew or a mixer, though we assure you it is certainly a craft brew!

Also on the list, and the final entry in our list at this time is a great place called The Bruery, where you can grab a bottle of Black Tuesday.  Black Tuesday is a hefty stout that is barrel aged to perfection.  However, the 19% ABV means you better plan to fill a growler and take it home unless you’ve brought your DD with you!  These guys are amazing at their craft and they show it over and over again every year with new labels to make our mouths water and our senses tingle.  From their Black Tuesday brew to their awesome ChronOlogy line of brews, every beer has a distinct flavor and texture that you will love!

That concludes our assessment of bourbon barrel aging and we hope that you take the time to go check out some of these outstanding brews.  This craft is neither new, nor is it losing interest, so we expect a large volume of new craft brews on the market over the next few years and we will certainly be giving them the highlights they deserve.

 

 

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Jan 5, 2017