Barrels + Beer
Bourbon Barrel Aged Beers
Partly due to bourbon’s surging popularity, beer aged in used bourbon barrels has become prevalent in the industry. A brewer may take a heavy imperial stout with a typical ABV between 7-9% and age it in used bourbon barrels for anywhere between three to 18 months. The beer soaks up the bourbon and oak flavors – such as roasted spices, dark cherry, caramel and sweet vanilla. The final product will be something like Firestone Walker’s Parabola – Russian Imperial Stout which clocks in at 12.7% ABV.
Others will solera age beer in bourbon barrels like a Spanish sherry or rum, and increase the alcohol by volume up to 28% (Sam Adam’s “Utopias,” 28% ABV) which teeters on the verge of being almost port-like.
Tequila Barrel Aged Beers
Some brewers have mastered the use of tequila barrels which impart some earthy, agave-like tones from the barrel. These flavors complement a salty Gose and create a “margarita” style beer, such as Rhinegeist Brewing’s, “Marg Monday,” 5.2% ABV.
Creative Barrel Exploration
Other barrel-aged beer gets really creative – for example J. Wakefield Brewing, “Bake Kujira - Maple Rum Barrel Aged Big Poppa” 17% ABV - an American Double Imperial Stout with coffee, coconut, and vanilla beans added, that is finished in a rum barrel that also aged maple-syrup.
If you haven’t, I suggest you venture out of your usual beer order and try a wine barrel-aged sour with dinner or bourbon barrel-aged stout for dessert. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the variety of flavors you can discover in barrel-aged craft beer.
As a full-service, used barrel cooperage, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel (a subsidiary of Independent Stave Company) inspects, tests, and repairs hundreds of thousands of used barrels a year. Many of these are shipped to breweries around the world. Our barrels come from producers of bourbon, whiskey, rum, tequila, sherry, bitters, and more.
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