Aging beer in wooden barrels is not a new technique in the brewing world. Once, all beer was aged or stored in wooden barrels, and that practice continued until metal containers were available. Only Belgian lambic and sour beer brewers retained the practice of aging and storing their beers in unlined oak barrels or vats, and for good reasons — they relied on the wild yeast and bacteria in the barrels to work their magic on their beer.
Now, creative American craft brewers, in their relentless search for new and exotic flavors, are using barrel-aging differently than their Belgian colleagues. Craft brewers have been experimenting for over 10 years with aging beer in barrels that were used for bourbon or wine production. Goose Island Brewery is credited with perfecting the practice with its exquisite and highly recommended Bourbon County Stout (14 percent ABV). The practice in the last few years has become widespread and has developed to the point that barrel-aging is now a full-blown trend in craft brewing. Many breweries, especially the newer ones, are offering these aged beers as special releases in order to enhance their brewing credentials.
Used barrels contain a lot of flavor to pass onto beer, much of it created by the preparation regimen for the barrels. Oak barrels used for aging bourbon are charred before use, which is responsible for much of the flavor and color associated with bourbon. The charring caramelizes sugars in the wood and creates the familiar brown color of bourbon. Oak barrels used for aging wine, meanwhile, are only lightly toasted. The heat applied during toasting or charring also enhances the chemicals that are responsible for the somewhat herbal flavor we associate with oak as well as the vanilla flavor found in bourbon and some wines.
Perhaps the most important contribution to beer of a used barrel is a result of the long aging of bourbon and wine. During aging, a quantity of the liquid is absorbed into the walls of the barrel, and this liquid and its flavors remain in the used barrel. Some of it will then be absorbed into the beer during its time in the barrel.
The challenge for breweries is finding the right balance between the beer and the flavors imparted by the barrel and the liquid that initially occupied the barrel. A robust beer is the best candidate for barrel-aging because its strength will help it maintain its identity when aged in a barrel that contains the strongly alcoholic bourbon or flavorful wine.
A good illustration of this challenge is an aged beer called Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (8.2 percent ABV) from Kentucky’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. The base beer appears to be a standard ale. The bourbon and alcohol that remained in the barrel obliterated this ale, and the result is a beverage that is more reminiscent of bourbon in flavor and aroma than beer. This is an instructive example of an unbalanced beer. I have tasted beers from other breweries that were intense and the flavor imparted by the aging process was equally intense; the results were nearly undrinkable. Correct balance is everything — sometimes too much flavor is just that: too much.
A study in good balance is Victory’s Baltic Thunder (8.5 percent ABV). This is a Baltic porter style aged in a red wine barrel. The aroma is rich red wine with hints of dark chocolate and dark fruits. The notes of red wine carry through to the taste and change the characteristics of this Baltic porter into a new beer, with oak and tannic notes accenting the beer’s chocolate and dark fruit nuances.
A rich but balanced bourbon barrel-aged beer is Thirsty Dog’s Wulver. This one is a Wee Heavy, the strongest of the traditional Scottish ales, that has been barrel-aged for a whopping 11 months. Wulver is loaded with dark fruit flavor and rich caramel malt that blend perfectly with the vanilla and caramel flavors from the bourbon-infused barrel, as well as mild toffee notes from oxidation from the extended aging and a hint of tannin and oak — a true sipping beer. Cheers!
King Lear in Finlay Park
October 16th-18th and 22nd-25th, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s King Lear. All performances held at the Finlay Park Ampitheatre at 7:30 PM. For tickets and more information, click here or call 803-665-2000.
Four Miles, Twelve Doughnuts
Winston’s Wish aims to increase knowledge and understanding of children with autism, and you can help by participating in the 4.donut Race on October 25th. Start at Edventure Children’s Museum, run 2 miles to Krispy Kreme, eat 12 doughnuts, and run back! Registration is required and can be done here before October 23rd at 5 p.m.
3LAU on Sunday, October 26th and the Unofficial Skrillex Mothership Tour After-Party on the 27th. More information and tickets for both can be found here. VIP tables available.
The Other Place at Trustus Theatre
Juliana Smithton is a successful neurologist whose life seems to be coming unhinged. A mystery unfolds as fact blurs with fiction, past collides with present and the elusive truth of Juliana’s mental health boils to the surface in The Other Place, running at Trustus Theatre October 17th through November 1st. There will be a talk-back following the matinee on October 19th. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the box office at 803-254-9732.
Bluegrass, Bidding, and BBQ
Join The Palladium Society Thursday, October 23rd from 7-10 p.m. for its 11th annual silent auction, featuring music by The Mustache Brothers and catering by Bourbon and The Oak Table. Tickets are $30 at the door and include admission, drinks, and food. Get yours online now!
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Cupcake now hiring a closing manager. Must be outgoing, customer service focused, able to work evenings and weekends. Apply in person. 1213 Lincoln Street, Columbia SC 29201. freshcupcakes.com
Local business is searching for new associates who are looking for a fun environment to earn great wages. Great position for college students/recent graduates. Must be well-mannered with excellent customer service skills/work ethic/ability to lift heavy items/must have valid Driver’s License. Call 803-376-4884 or email resume: email@example.com.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Real Estate Spotlight
Capital Kitchen & Bath One stop solution for all your remodeling & new construction needs. CAPITALKB.COM
Town Center Apartment Homes in Lake Carolina THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Bran new apartments inside award-winning Lake Carolina. towncenteratlakecarolina.com