It’s the Barrel Age.

What was the newest style of beer you experimented with? Was it barrel aged? It wouldn’t surprise me if it was.

Before I get into things, let it be known that barrel aged beers have been around for a very, very long time. In fact, all beer up until the introduction of steel vats was stored in wooden barrels. It’s only just recently that breweries have been labeling them as “barrel aged.” This is because they’re aging them in barrels that have previously contained a spirit of some sort. The most common barrels used are Bourbon and Rum barrels.

This fairly new twist has finally established barrel aged beers as a “have to try” among beer enthusiasts. Their sales and demand has sky rocketed since Goose Island released the first documented barrel aged beer 22 years ago. Although most of these beers are either seasonal, limited edition or experimental, the trend has earned these unique beers a place in known styles.

With that said, the demand for barrel aged beers is high but the availability of the barrels are scarce. These are the reasons why:

  • Each barrel can only be used once.
  • 98% of these barrels are used by Scotch distilleries leaving 2% for the craft breweries to divide.
  • Ideal temperature for aging is 67 degrees Fahrenheit

To illustrate the scarcity of these barrels, Goose Island alone requires 3000 bourbon barrels for a full batch of their barrel aged beer. That’s only 1 out of 3,464. I know that not every one of these breweries are putting efforts towards producing a barrel aged beer but a good majority of them are. If done right, a barrel aged beer does nothing but help the credentials of the brewery along with the resume of the brewer.

So how does the aging process work?

  • Cold causes the barrels to contract which tighten the pores and traps flavors
  • Heat expands the wood which in turn expands the pores and releases flavors
  • Time provides the high alcohol content

To give you some insight to the flavors are produced and how, it is important to know the process before the beer is put in. Most of the time, oak barrels are charred before they are used. This creates most of the flavor and color. Charring the barrel infuses the sugars in the wood which is in turn responsible for the robust wooden and vanilla flavors. After charring and prepping the barrel, the beer is added and time is allocated. The ideal time to age is 1 year which ensures all the flavors are extracted and a well-balanced beer is produced, 1-2 months creates very strong vanilla and bourbon flavors but lacks the delicacy.

Whether your favorite brewery produces a barrel aged beer or not, it is definitely the Barrel Age.

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2 thoughts on “It’s the Barrel Age.

  1. Great post! I’m not a huge fan of barrel-aged beer, personally, but I can definitely appreciate how unique and special it is, considering the time and materials that go into the process. I recently toured Goose Island at their Clyborn brewpub and heard about their barrel process. Before then, I never really understood just how rare the barrels were to come across.
    I think you’re right by saying it’s the Barrel Age. Some breweries are getting creative with their barrels, I’ve found as well. I’ve recently come across a few wine barrel-aged brews, which have been spectacular, particularly Boulder Beer’s Blood Orange Wheat aged in Chardonnay barrels. I think wine barrels will be the next popular substitute in the next few years.

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    • I’m glad you liked it! I’ve only tried barrel aged stouts, porters and browns so that blood orange wheat sounds like I have to give it a try. Boulder is about 30 minutes from my house and I already like most of brews they produce so it won’t be to hard to get there.

      I agree with you in which more breweries will start using wine barrels. Especially since wine drinkers are starting to experiment with craft beer more recently. Also, since you like wine aged beers, I would strongly suggest trying Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch. It’s not aged in a barrel but it’s got some nice Chardonnay characteristics to it.

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