A look into different aging methods for barrel-aged brews.
It’s long been a practice to age wine and spirits for better flavor, but a recent trend has found many in the beer world experimenting with aging methods, coupled with an increased desire from consumers for barrel-aged brews.
While it was once common practice to use steel tanks or line barrels with pitch to seal out external flavors, brewmasters are now welcoming these intrusions with open arms.
Jeff Josenhans, a certified sommelier, cicerone, and top-rated mixologist for The Grant Grill in San Diego, California, says the latest trends for barrel-aging in the beer world is focused on highlighting different barrel seasonings, otherwise known as the lingering flavor of what was in the barrel prior to beer.
“The market is seeing more and more exotic barrels such as rum, tequila, and wine barrel seasonings prior to putting a beer in the barrel,” he says. “The types of barrels being used can really be suited well for different type brews that are beyond the typical whiskey-aged stout, for example. I’ve seen some fantastic sour beers on the market using wine barrels lately, which highlight how diverse barrel usage really can be.”
Scott Kerkmans, coordinator of the Beer Industry Program at Metropolitan State University of Denver and one of the first five Certified Cicerones in the world, has seen tequila barrels becoming the latest thing in beer brewing—especially beers with a higher level of bitterness.
“Tequila offers its own unique tastes, but it comes with some challenges as the flavors can be so strong they don’t let the beer shine through,” he says. “Also, more and more small breweries are aging in their own foeders (wooden barrels) instead of relying on acquiring barrels from distilleries.”
Jim McCune, executive director of the craft beer division at EGC Group in Melville, New York, says despite the recent popularity, wooden barrels have been essential for aging premium beer for centuries, helping to improve the flavor, color, aroma, and complexity.
“Brewers are constantly looking for new and exciting barrels to age their beer. Most breweries use bourbon and wine barrels, but one company I work with, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, also uses Madeira and Cognac barrels to brew unique-tasting aged ales,” he says, adding that anything that’s not too hoppy or light will age well in barrels. “The bigger, stronger, darker beers definitely age the best.”