By Dylan Hochstedler
Wood barrels have been used to store booze for thousands of years. Today’s distillers and winemakers are making it possible to repurpose barrels by selling or giving them to brewers, who have found creative ways to put them to good use.
Craft brewers are itching for all kinds of barrels to age their stouts, sours, saisons and Belgian-strongs. It’s all about the flavor variations derived from each vessel – and yes, the flavors vary from mild to wild. While some breweries have specialized in the barreling method for years, others are just getting started.
Here are a few beers sourced from a half-dozen different types of barrels that will serve as a starting point for most any palate.
- Avery Brewing Co.’s Tweak: This annual bourbon barrel-aged coffee stout comes out every November, and usually flies off the shelves before year’s end. It may set you back $20 if you find one, but it’s well worth it.
- Elevation Beer Co.’s Oil Man Imperial Stout: At 10 percent ABV, the seasonal bourbon barrel-aged brew is the perfect beer to warm you up when sitting around the campfire.
- Station 26 Brewing Co.’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star Imperial Stout: Station 26 releases its Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star every year on Black Friday. Make sure to get your tickets early.
- Oskar Blues Brewery’s Rum Barrel-Aged Death By Coconut: This extremely limited release is aged in rum barrels for nine months until it has the perfect blend of rum-soaked oak, molasses, vanilla and chocolate.
- River North Brewery’s Rum Barrel Quandary: River North’s Quandary is a classic take on an Abbey-style dark strong. When aged in rum barrels, expect flavors of brown sugar, dates, vanilla and other tasty notes.
- WeldWerks Brewing Co.’s Double Rum Medianoche: WeldWerks has made versions of Medianoche in both bourbon and rum barrels. Their limited release Double Rum Medianoche won second place at the 2017 Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer.
- Dry Dock Brewing Co.’s Coconut Belgian Dark: After the idea for a coconut beer was devised at Dry Dock, an order of rum barrels from the Dominican Republic was soon placed. Then they brewed a Belgian-style strong and rested it on toasted coconut, which gets better with aging.
- Crooked Stave’s Nightmare on Brett: Crooked Stave blends every batch of Nightmare on Brett in different barrels, making each version distinctive. With flavor variations like cherry, raspberry and more, there is a Nightmare on Brett for everyone’s taste buds.
- Mockery Brewing’s Schizophrenic Narcoleptic: Before Mockery got their hands on the oak barrels they used to age Schizophrenic Narcoleptic, the barrels were used to make artisanal vanilla extract, which created the perfect blend of imperial coffee stout and vanilla.
- New Belgium’s Foeders: Instead of aging in barrels, New Belgium uses several large oak foeders (basically huge oak vats) that allow this craft giant to age several barrels at a time. They host an annual party in February called Lost in the Woods, just to celebrate their oak-aged libations.
- Purpose Brewing’s pH1 Barrel: Fort Collins-based Purpose Brewing possesses a barrel that has housed all kinds of spirits and beer. This famous barrel started as a California wine barrel before doing stints at New Belgium Brewing and two California breweries. Purpose Brewing recently got its hands on pH1 and released a sour blonde.
- Banded Oak Brewing Co.’s Cabernet Barrel-Aged Belgian Dark Strong: This beer offers hints of port or dessert wine before it leads into darker syrup and cherry flavors. Banded Oak head brewer Chris Kirk said the brewery currently has four beers aging in Cabernet barrels, two in Pinot barrels and one aging in a Chardonnay barrel.
- Gilded Goat Brewing Co.’s Cabernet Barrel-Aged Sour Witbier: Gilded Goat’s Belgian wit features a bold balance of fruit, hops and yeast. It fills the nose with red wine, peach and citrus and offers flavors of orange blossom and citrus.
- Epic Brewing Co.’s Brainless On Cherries: Although this particular beer is brewed at Epic’s Salt Lake City headquarters, the Denver brewery/taproom in RiNo nearly always has Brainless On Cherries on draft. Epic has used its Brainless Belgian-Style Golden Ale as a base beer for several different projects. Brewers added pure cherry puree to this variation while aging it in Cabernet and Syrah casks.
- Jessup Farm Barrel House Tequila Train Delay: Jessup Farm cranks out all kinds of limited barrel-aged creations. Stop in on a hot afternoon for this tequila barrel pale ale that offers hints of lime and citrus peel.
- Copper Kettle Brewing Co.’s Sobremesa: With agave and lime added to the brew, this tequila-aged strong pale ale pairs exceptionally well with tacos.
- Upslope Brewing Co.’s Tequila Barrel-Aged Barleywine: After letting their barleywine age in Dulce Vida Anejo Tequila barrels for 11 months, the Upslope brewers released their tequila barrel-aged barleywine as the first Lee Hill series release in 2017.
Recent Metro State University of Denver graduate Dylan Hochstedler enjoys exploring and writing about the Colorado scene.