Tag Archives: barrel

The most memorable of forgotten weekends!…

6 Dec

The most memorable of forgotten weekends!….

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beers: Some things are worth the wait!…like this post!

20 Sep

What do you get when you mix your bourbon with your beer?  And I’m not talking about a boiler-maker, where one takes a shot of bottom shelf whiskey and pairs it with a Pabst!  No, I’m taking about craft beers aged in used bourbon barrels. 

After spending a week in Kentucky with 100+ other bartenders at Camp Runamok, I learned all about the art of our native distilled spirit, Bourbon.  I also learned a few other things, but those don’t need to be mentioned here.  This is a beer blog, after all.

Even though we were roughing it in cabins, I was able to obtain and sample some native beers.  One of these was the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout from Bluegrass Brewing Company (Clay Street Series).

This particular stout from BBC, a local Louisville brewery, is aged in bourbon barrels for sixty days, and is then mingled with the pre-aged stout to have a consistency of flavor.  In doing this though, I feel that the aged beer may have lost some of the distinctive complexities imparted by the bourbon barrels. 

The aromas of the bourbon were slightly present on the nose where you got the caramel and vanilla notes.  The particular brand of bourbon aged in these barrels was not specified.  For a stout, it was a bit thin or watery, and tasted kind of like an egg cream.  I would’ve liked to taste the bourbon more.  Still, this craft brew was a welcome alternative to cans of Busch in the woods.

Unfortunately, the local bourbon barrel aged beers I was able to sample in Kentucky are not available in NYC.  But for you locals, there are other beers of this style available here, despite our distance from the bluegrass state. 

One exceptional and local example is the Brooklyn Black Ops from the Brooklyn Brewery.  The beer is only released once a year and the bottles sell fast so if you see it this November, get your hands on it.  Black Ops is a Russian Imperial Stout that is aged for four months in bourbon barrels, and then bottle fermented with champagne yeast.  The yeast adds effervescence to the heavy, highly alcoholic beer (11% ABV).  This is probably my favorite of all the bourbon barrel aged beers I’ve ever tasted, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it again this winter.    

Another standout is Allagash’s Curiex, a Belgian Tripel that has been aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels for eight weeks in a cold cellar.  It pours a golden yellow color.  The result is a boozy, oak-y, vanilla and banana-like tasting beer that is still surprisingly light.  Like the Black Ops, a corked bottle makes it ideal for aging.  If you’ve never tried it, I recommend it, especially for fans of Belgian ales.  The barrel aging adds to the complexity of flavors.

Goose Island has been producing a Bourbon County line for a long time now, with its stout being its most popular.  It is certainly a forefather in the bourbon barrel aged beer category.   

Weyerbacher (*one of the breweries we’ll be visiting on our Brewery Bus Tour*) releases its “Heresy,” in February, a bourbon barrel aged version of their Old Heathen Imperial Stout. 

Beers with a heavier malt background like stouts, porters, bocks, and barleywines, have a roasted coffee, chocolate-y taste, which works well with the oak-y vanilla caramel flavors present in the barrel and what remains of the bourbon (3 gallons of the whiskey automatically soak into the wood, hence the term “Angel’s Share”).   

While barrel aging your beer in bourbon can add wonderful new notes in the nose and layer it with a complexity of flavors, used bourbon barrels are not the only vessels brewers are using.  Different types of wood will impart different flavors, and the barrels may be used or new.  Beer can be aged in barrels previously used for port, sherry, whiskey, rum, wine, etc.  For example, Scotland’s Innis & Gunn have built their brewery’s reputation on aging different styles of beer in different types of barrels.  Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin is another great brewery that ages their beers in barrels, but with a Belgian twist.

In fact, Belgium brewers have been using this process way before American craft breweries started to do the same thing.  Hence the distinctive Flanders-style beers like Rodenbach that have recently experienced a surge in popularity.  The unique flavors of this beer come from the aging process.

But sours and Belgian styles are a whole other category of barrel aged beers.  Right now, I still have bourbon on the brain.  September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, after all.    

If you are an experienced home brewer and would like to experiment with aging your beer in barrels, my first recommendation would to make friends with a distiller who can hook you up!  Kidding.  Barrels of different types are available in some homebrewing stores, and also available for purchase from distilleries and wineries as well as online. 

Do you have a favorite barrel aged beer?  Have any of you home brewers ever tried making one? 

   And if you ever find yourself in Kentucky, take a break from the bourbon and the horses to sample beers from the local breweries—you won’t be disappointed.