Brewers are always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to make beer. In recent years, barrel-aged beers have taken the craft beer industry by storm. Take your best brew, throw it in a used barrel, and enjoy the incredible beverage that pours out in as little as a few short weeks. Introducing a used barrel allows beer to take on additional flavor profiles and reach new limits. In many cases, these barrel-aged brews also have significantly increased ABVs, making them very popular with beer drinkers.
Not all barrel-aged beers are the same. The type of barrel that a beer is aged in will significantly affect the beer’s final result.
The bourbon industry is booming, and the beer industry is taking full advantage of this success. Since more bourbon is being produced and put out on shelves, there has been an increasing number of empty bourbon barrels available in recent years. Brewers have jumped at the opportunity to purchase these used barrels for the sole purpose of aging their most delicious ales.
Bourbon barrel aged beers enjoy a high ABV thanks to the angel’s share of whiskey that remains in the barrel after extraction. The beer invades the oak barrel walls and invites any remaining whiskey to the party. The result is a complex, sweet, and oaky beer that can satisfy beer drinkers and whiskey drinkers, alike.
Try: Alltech Brewing Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale; Lightning Brew Black Lightning Porter
In California, it is fairly easy to access and purchase used wine barrels. Unlike bourbon, most of which is created across the nation in Kentucky, much of the country’s wine hails from Northern California. Brewers in California and San Diego have experimented with a wide range of wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and Merlot. Introducing beer into wine barrels yields a final beverage that has enhanced fruitiness and dryness.
Try: Lightning Brew Electrostatic Ale, Refuge Brewery Palumbo Reserve
What’s better than beer aged in wine barrels? How about beer aged in barrels that once contained a liquor distilled from wine? Brandy and cognac barrels have become increasingly popular with brewers around the world. These barrels essentially yield beers with incredible complexity, sweetness, and earthiness.
Try: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss
Everyone loves rum, right? So, why not add beer into rum barrels and see what happens? The result is an incredibly complex beer that can satisfy everyone, from the stout-loving fan to the IPA-committed aficionado. Rum is inherently sweet, which can be a nice complement to many beers. Rum barrels emphasize the sweet and coffee-like flavors of stouts, while also complementing the malt backbone inherent in many IPAs.
Try: Mikkeller Brewing Whiskey Barrel-Aged Vanilla Shake Beer Geek; Revolution Brewing Straight Jacket
San Diego is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Mexico, where Tequila is the drink of choice. It was a no-brainer, then, to introduce tequila barrel aged beer. Once tequila has matured, beer replaces the liquor and becomes one with the angel’s share that remained behind. The end result of tequila barrel aged beers? Sweet and tangy with hints of chocolate, caramelized bananas, and smoke.
Try: Almanac Barrel Noir; Saint Archer Tusk & Grain Tequila & Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee Porter
Barrel aged beers not only allow beer drinkers to enjoy the components of other libations but also help to expand the craft beer market. Wine drinkers will be more inclined to try beer if it has been aged in wine barrels. Bourbon drinks will be more agreeable to throwing back a pint if the beer is reminiscent of their favorite corn whiskey. The same is true for any lover of spirits or wine. As a result, barrel-aged brews are likely here to stay.