According to the calendar, Spring has officially begun. But depending on what part of the country you live in, especially here in New England, there are plenty of chilly nights still ahead. With visions of fireside sessions dancing through our heads, we thought it was a good time to turn our attention to barrel-aged beers.
Most people often associate barrel-aged beers with bourbon barrels, and that’s definitely a popular one (try our Bourbon Barrel Aged Relic Twenty-8 if you haven’t already) but a barrel-aged beer is really just any beer that has spent a period of time aging in a barrel. In addition to bourbon, commonly used barrels for aging include wine, whisky, rum, and even sherry.
From a brewing perspective, one of the most exciting things about barrel aging a beer is discovering the aromas and flavors that are passed on to the original beer based on the type of barrel that’s used during the aging process. Oak is the most common, although even the type of oak can bring a different nuance and experience to the astute palate. The flavors can also vary depending on the length of time a beer spends in the barrel; in some cases, a barrel-aged beer won’t even peak until it has aged for 2-3 years.
In addition to creating new flavors and variants of base beers, barrel aging is a way for brewers to connect with an important chapter in overall brewing history. The first barrel-aged beers are commonly considered to be the Lambic style, which traces its roots back to 13th-century Belgium. If you aren’t well-versed in what a Lambic style is, this 2020 article from Hop Culture does a good job of providing an accessible overview.
While the art of barrel-aging dates back to medieval times, there is still plenty of room for innovation. The first beer aged in bourbon barrels is credited to Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing Company, which was in the 1990’s – just thirty years ago. With the different combinations of barrels, base beers, and aging periods, there is huge potential for different flavor experiences to be explored.
At Bent Water, we’re doing our part to honor history while constantly innovating. Our newest barrel-aged beer, due out later this month, is a Belgian-Style Strong Ale aged in red wine barrels: a truly unique flavor experience that we can’t wait to share with you now – and maybe again in another year if you save a can to see how it ages over time.
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