From big, boozy Baltic porters, to crisp apple ales, to inky stouts, craft brewers are increasingly experimenting barrel-aged beers. Barrels include second-use French oak, repurposed Bourbon and more, and flavors range from tropical fruit and cloves to coffee and chocolate. Here are eight of our favorite iterations from brewers nationwide.
Nebraska Brewing Company Sallyweiss; $12/500ml, 94 points. This offers a lively combination of banana and clove that is bright and effervescent, accented by a perfumed flower aroma and a soft oak note on the finish. The banana takes on a more pronounced taste as the beer warms, boosted by a buttery character. This was aged in second-use French oak barrels that held Chardonnay. Drink fresh on an early summer afternoon with your favorite soft cheese.
Pure Project Log Cabin; $30/22oz, 94 points. This maple-syrup forward beer feels like it was brewed with pots of coffee and then dusted with chocolate. That’s not to say any of the flavors are dominant or too overwhelming—they’re not. This uses breakfast food flavors judiciously to create a beer that could easily be substituted for a second cup of coffee while waiting for your diner pancakes to hit the table. —J.H.
Burlington Beer Co. Choir of the Dead; $32/16oz 4 pack, 92 points. This is boozy and thick, with aromas and flavors heavy on vanilla and burnt sugar. The midpalate shows tones of burned coffee, vanilla and oak tannins, while flavors of crème brûlée, dark chocolate, a slight hop bitterness and a splash of confectioner’s sugar arise on the finish. It’s hard not to sing the praises of this beer. —J.H.
Heirloom Bliss Glimpse; $20/12oz 2 pack, 91 points. This is a big, boozy Baltic porter that displays an inky black body with a robust mocha-colored head. A whiskey kick on the nose follows through to the palate and lands heavy on the finish. This is one of those beers that, thanks to a thicker mouthfeel and higher alcohol, is what’s needed in the winter when even the fireplace and the furnace in the house isn’t doing to enough to keep you warm. Drink fresh or age for two years to let some of the alcohol heat mellow out. —J.H.
Connecticut Valley Nothing By Chance; $27/16oz 4pack, 90 points. Even when served cold, this spiced apple ale has a warming effect, thanks to the high alcohol. The barrel tannins bring out an earthy rustic quality to the fruit. A crisp, juicy finish ties it all together. It’s great for autumn sipping by the backyard firepit. —J.H.
Helio Basin Whiskey Del Bac Duke’s Cellar Reserve; $25/750ml, 90 points. Herbal and welcoming, this imperial stout aged in Bourbon barrels is lighter than others in the style. It has a slight smoky characteristic and smooth, almost mineral-laden finish. Share with friends to see what they divine from the bottle. Everyone will find something different. —J.H.
Hi-Wire Oaked Chocolate Macaroon 10W-40; $20/16oz 4 pack, 89 points. A fun experiment to recreate a popular cookie, this stout is big on a toasted coconut flavor, an oily chocolate aroma and a bit of burnt espresso on the finish. Throughout the experience there are accents of vanilla and coconut flakes that weave in and out of the palate. It works in a pinch if the real baked McCoy isn’t available. —J.H.
West Sixth Bourbon Barrel Brownie; $18/12oz 4 pack, 88 points. With a Hershey bar level of sweetness and a dose of sugary cocktail cherries, this could be a stout more than a brown ale. It is a thick, fun nightcap on a day where you forego dessert.