There is a lot to love about the obsession brewers have with barrels. Over the last 25 years, having a “barrel program” for American brewers has become a badge of honor and expected by consumers. Seeing a rack (or more) of barrels in a brewery these days is commonplace, but the liquid itself is not.
Wooden barrels, sometimes American oak, sometimes French, can be sourced from any number of locations. However, the traditions of the bourbon industry, where barrels are only used once, have aided brewers the most. The inclusion of imperial stouts, barleywine, Belgian-style ales or lagers in these barrels usually change the whiskey flavor enough that sits in the background and becomes a platform for the actual beer to shine.
After a single use with beer, a barrel can be used again and again for aging beer, but most of the spirit essence will be gone. Still, remarkable liquids can come from barrels that are filled time and time again, thanks to brewers who have honed the craft and are unafraid of experimentation. Brewers now seek out any kind of barrel they can get their hands on. Whiskey remains the most popular, but wine, Sherry, tequila and even the rare Scotch barrels are played with.
Brewers are working to find the right style of beer to match with each, and the thoughtfulness translates well into the glass. When it comes to what is bottled, brewers have taken to blending, finding several barrels that exhibit excellent character and finding ways to combine and improve upon each until settling into a final blend that delights the tastebuds.
Wood flavors from barrels or casks can be considered a fifth ingredient in beer, adding depth and complexity that complement and contrast the typical beer flavors. Generally speaking, if a brewer has chosen to put beer into a barrel, it’s worth seeing the partnership that it shows between wood and beer.
Alesong 2020 Antiquum Farm Terroir Project; $16/750 ml. Brewed with and spontaneously fermented by the microflora on Pinot Noir grapes, this ruby-colored ale is tart and bright in sweet undertones of black currant… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Avery Uncle Jacob’s Stout; $13/12 oz. This stout could raise the dead, and if it did, they’d thank you… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Blackberry Farm Barrel Series 003; $20/750 ml. This pours the color of iced tea, but there is no mistaking that it’s a saison in the glass… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Brown’s 2021 Beacon; $10/500 ml. Bright in citrus and herb aromas, this saison, which is brewed with lemon verbena, has a light fruity depth… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Fog Town Moon Juice; $17/16 oz 4 pack. Refreshing and invigorating on the nose, this low-alcohol IPA was aged in gin barrels with juniper and cardamom… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Green Bench Death Rattle; $17/375 ml. Part of the brewery’s Webb’s City Cellar series this dusty pink colored ale is bright in acidity and light on berry flavors… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Monday Night Tie X On; $15/500 ml. A rich, thick combination of several different beer styles, all that spent significant times in various barrels, this boozy concoction has a strong, old ale quality to it… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Private Press Electric Roads; $35/500 ml. This starts off like two barleywines competing against each other but ultimately agreeing to share power… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Reuben’s Three Ryes Men; $20/750 ml. Velvety smooth with rounded carbonation, this barleywine aged in bourbon barrels quickly reveals its alcohol strength… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Russian River Intinction Sauvignon Blanc; $13/500 ml. Pilsner beer is a tough style to age in barrels because it can quickly get run over by the wood and other flavors… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW