Beer 501: Barrel-aged Beers

Feb 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

By popular demand*, this class will cover a few barrel-aged brews I've had in recent times.

Beers are generally best drunk fresh. Unlike wine, most beers do not improve with age. As with wine however, there are exceptions. Barrel-aged beers tend to be brewed with some level of aging in mind. There is some history to this. Some barrel-aged beers weren't necessarily aged for the flavor the barrel imparts, but were brewed to survive long trips - for example, the many months required to sail from England to it's more distant colonies in the 1700's (think IPA's). The Belgians have been known for a few centuries to ferment red ales in oak casks before blending.

Barrel-aging is currently something of a fad at American micro- and craft-breweries. And it's resulted in some quite tasty brews. These beers tend to have higher than average alcohol contents - this helps the beer better age. Here are a few I've sampled:

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
If you're going to try a bourbon barrel aged beer it should be one from Kentucky. Why? 'Cos that's where you'll find the best bourbons. Kentucky Ale is described as being a cross between an Irish red ale and an English pale ale. That's not a bad description. It's more malty than hoppy. The Bourbon Barrel version has those characteristics plus a strong oaky bourbon flavor. I like bourbon and I like beer. I like this beer. If you don't like bourbon though, don't bother.

Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale
Stone makes good beer. Their Arrogant Bastard is a fine strong ale. The oaked version, which I believe is aged with oak chips rather than in a barrel, is also damned good. Malty and hoppy with oak undertones. I highly recommend this one.

Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti
This is an oak aged imperial stout. Has the coffee-like flavor you'd expect for an imperial, plus a nutty wood flavor and maybe a little caramel. If you like stouts I highly recommend you try this one.

Jolly Pumpkin La Rojas
This one is from the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking department. Supposedly a sour amber ale. Brewed using a proprietary yeast and aged in oak. Tastes like really, really bad lemonade. Mixed with dust. Seriously.

It's a short list today. Let me know in the comments what barrel-aged beers you have a liking (or distaste) for.

Next up: Buggered if I know yet.

* Okay, only PlS asked for it. But it's as good a reason as any.

21 responses so far

  • gerty-z says:

    I think PlS counts as popular! I like the Arrogant Bastard OK (how could you NOT!), though I don't usually choose the barrel-aged brews myself. Maybe I just haven't found the right one...

    WTF is wrong with folks?? Mixing pumpkin-pie spices into beer is never a good idea.

    If you are taking requests, can you do nut browns? I have had some good ones and some bad ones. But the good ones are really good.

  • Peggy says:

    Regular old Arrogant Bastard is excellent, but I've never tried the Oaked version. Now I've got to find some!

  • pinus says:

    hmmm a few notes

    jolly pumpkin makes amazing beers. they are not all pumpkin beer...that is just the name of the brewery. never had that one...but every one I have had, I love.

    oaked arrogant bastard is tasty

    allagash has some great barrel aged beers...curieux is among my favorites.

    founders makes some good ones..backwoods bastard is a nice barrel aged scotch ale, and KBS is a bourbon aged stout.

    • Jesse Sensenig says:

      La Roja is a really good moderately sour beer with plenty of complexity. Definitely need to be into sour beers though.

  • Odyssey says:

    The La Rojas doesn't have pumpkin spice in it, although it might be a better beer if it did... Jolly Pumpkin is the name of the brewery.

    I'll have to think about nut browns. I can't say I've tried that many.

    How could I have forgotten Backwoods Bastard!

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Hell yeah, barrel aged ales kick ass. I'll have to send you the Odyssey beer from Allagash. It's a great brewery.

  • JollyRoger says:

    I not had the opportunity to try any barrel aged beer however the Kentucky Bourbon and the Arrogant Bastard both sound like me.....maybe on our next visit...:-)

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  • chezjake says:

    Maybe not just nut browns, but brown ales in general. This season I'm being particularly enamored of Smuttynose Old Brown Dog.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    I'll second (or third, or anyway ++) the brown ale requests. Loves me my brown ales.

  • antipodean says:

    Suggestion: Pale Ales. American, Australian, English and Indian styles?

  • Temptation Aged in French oak wine barrels for twelve months with distinct characteristics of fruit and subtle oak sounds more like a description of wine than beer. Temptation is a Blonde Ale aged in French oak chardonnay barrels with . Supplication Brown Ale aged in French oak Pinot Noir barrels with three strains of and sour cherries .

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Brown ales are as boring to drink as they are to make.

    • odyssey says:

      Now, now, PlS. You got your barrel-aged beers. I will give the people what they want. First though I have to drink a few more brown ales so I have something to write about...

  • Bob says:

    The Jolly Pumpkin beers use deliberate innoculations of beneficial wild yeast and other micro flora to get their distinctive sourness and funkiness. Not my favorites but they have enough fans and business to run 2 breweries in Michigan.

    I have made several beers and a cyser that were aged in twice used bourbon barrels. Some of the best beer I've been involved with.

    Usually it is a group effort because of the 55 gallon volume involved.

    It mellows the beer and adds subtle vanilla flavors. I have tasted barrel aged and kegged versions of the same beer side by side and the difference is really noticeable. Sometimes the bourbon flavors come thru but it seems to fade first.

    I get my barrels from New Holland Brewing, (Holland, MI) where they use them to age their Dragons Milk and other strong ales. Their barrel-aged beers are quite good.

    My group of brewing friend are getting ready to brew up another batch to fill our latest barrel. I'm leaning toward a black double Czech Pilsener and it will be aged in the barrel until Sept. Then we are going to fill it with cider and honey and fresh yeast and let it ferment in the barrel. Worked like a charm last time!
    Yeast Coasters
    West Michigan

  • the one says:

    KBS is the best barrel aged beer ever, ive had tons and la roja is an amazing beer, the reason it tasted like bad lemonade is probably cause you didnt let it age enough to drink, since its done with Brett it needs some time in the bottle to condition too not just the year long ferm with the Brett.

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