It is one thing to go to a brewery and drink good beer because that alone will have you leaving happy. But what about those times where there are very special beers on tap? The ones that have been in the back aging for months and absorbing additional flavors like notes of wine, the subtle flavor of oak, or the hints of vanilla from bourbon. This is a wonderful process known as barrel aging and it is one of the most fortunate things to come into the craft brewery world. The options and styles of beer that are finding homes in barrels are becoming limitless and as always there are some that taste better than others, here are a few of our favorites that we have found throughout our travels.
One of the first memorable barrel aged beers we tried was on a visit to Boulder, Colorado where we found ourselves at Upslope Brewing Company. Located just a couple doors down from this tap room lies Bookcliff Vineyards and it was their Cabernet Sauvignon barrels that were used to age this brewery’s IPA. The end result is a beer that has a dark red color, a full body, and all the qualities one would love both from a glass of red wine and a traditional IPA. The richness of the wine just adds to the body the malts have already brought to this beer, but they are still background flavors to the hops. While this is still a hop forward beer the barrel aging creates balance, mellows out the hops, and adds a flavor profile that will not be seen often in an IPA which makes this one of the best barrel aged beers in Colorado.
But what about having a beer that was barrel aged in a barrel used for three different drinks? Like a cherry wine, a bourbon, and a port wine. That was the case at Copper Kettle Brewing Company where a Belgian Dark Strong was aged using that exact barrel, and what was the end result? One of the most complex, full flavored beers one will ever try. With so much going on in the barrel nothing was lost and all flavors still had a presence in this beer. The sweetness from the port, tartness from the cherry and subtle oak and vanilla flavors from the bourbon was not lost, and was present in each sip. The only downside to a beer this good is that it was gone too fast, so one can only hope there are a couple kegs being saved for special occasions around this small brewery.
Sometimes there a beers saved for special occasions and are so sought after that it makes the barrel aging process go hand in hand with the beer. This is no truer than in Aurora, Colorado at Dry Dock Brewing Company with the annual release of their Bligh’s Barley Wine. Aged in Stranahan’s Colorado Bourbon barrels for nine months prior to its release the line to purchase a bottle of this annual ale grows every year. As for the taste? A full bodied beer with a strong malt flavor and a subtle sweetness that any fan of this style will enjoy. But the months spent in a bourbon barrel escalate this beer to a whole different level. The great aroma and flavors come through strong but do not overpower the strong malt flavor. Instead the notes of oak, vanilla, and bourbon balance out the sweetness to create a very balanced beer that drinks easy, and obvious why this beer is looked forward to by the masses each year.
The last beer has not been aged with wine, or bourbon but instead has spent anywhere from one to three years in French Oak barrels. It also is from the largest brewery in Colorado, the La Folie sour brown ale from New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins. A brown ale with a red hue this beer is everything that fans of sour ales will like. The light body, effervescent mouth feel, aroma that gives off hints of oak, but most importantly with a beer like this is the flavor. From beginning to end this beer is highly sour and at times brings out a taste that makes one have to pucker their mouth. While it is not a style all beer drinkers are extremely familiar with, and ones that are not always easy to find the La Folie is worth the hunt to find it for two reasons. It is a great way to introduce yourself to sours and being from such a mainstream brewery it is easy to find. Not to mention from beginning to end this 22 ounce bomber drinks very easy, and is one of the best sour ales available.
As with anything in the beer world from ingredients to style the one rule remains true and that is that anything is possible. The same rule can also be applied to what style of beer gets the treatment of aging in a barrel, and also what kind of barrel is used. The varieties available are plentiful and can include every style of beer possible from the lightest saison to the darkest of stouts and porters. Whenever browsing the bomber shelves at a liquor store or reviewing the tap list at your favorite brewery look for something barrel aged, they can very easily turn into some of your favorites.
Is there a brewery you want us to visit? A style of beer you would like us to profile? Let us know at https://www.facebook.com/MileHighBrews