Friday, December 6, 2013

2013 Best of Barrel Aged

Over the course of the year there were dozens of new beers released from breweries all over the state. As in years past one of the common trends seen in the craft beer scene was beers get aged in various barrels. 2013 was a very good year for barrel aged beers, and drinkers got to sample beers from all types of barrels. There was the standard bourbon and wine released beers, but also this year breweries began to utilize tequila and gin barrels as well. With so many new barrel aged beers released over the course of the year these were some of the best we tried.
Wine Barrels: Throughout the course of the year there were several beers we tried that spent time in wine barrels, but the best one also came from the largest brewery on the list, Odell. The beer? Amuste, and imperial porter aged in wine barrels. From beginning to end this beer was balanced, complex, and none of the great flavors were lost in a beer that took two years to make. The roasted barley and coffee notes from the porter created a rich, full body that was heightened by all the wine additions. The juice from tempranillo grapes added a richness, and acidity to balance out the beer, and then of course there is the time Amuste spent in a wine barrel. The end result was a rich beer that brought out the best qualities in wine and beer and brought the two together in harmony. The richness of the porter was present, and the tannin profile and mouth feel of red wine was equally as present. This full bodied beer was truly balanced, and one of the best barrel aged beers we enjoyed during 2013.
Bourbon Barrels: Typically when bourbon barrels are mentioned regarding a beer it is reserved for something dark like a porter or a stout. But what about when it is a second use barrel, rinsed out so the oak flavor is prominent, and the beer is a sour? That is exactly what Elevation Beer Co. in Poncha Springs did earlier this year when they released their Engel Weisse. This light and traditional Berliner Weisse was given a modern upgrade, but stayed true to the traditional style that this beer is. The light color, light body, and strong tartness made it obvious that this beer was a sour, and the low, sessionable alcohol content made it true to the style. But through all the sour notes was a subtle hint of oak that gave this beer depth of flavor. The oak cut through the acidity of this beer, gave it more body, but this beer stayed very true to what a Berliner Weisse should be. With such a unique style turning into a layered beer it is no wonder that it was one of the best barrel aged beers of the past year.
Same Barrel, multiple uses: What happens when a barrel begins by holding cherry wine, then moves to a distillery for bourbon, and then back to a winery for port? The next step is to age a beer in it, and that is exactly what happened at Copper Kettle Brewing Company in Denver during their 2nd Anniversary, and the beer aged in this barrel was a Belgian Dark Strong. To go along with a great body and complex flavor the barrel aging was so unique that all flavors were still present. The subtle hint of the cherry was present at the beginning, the bourbon flavor carried over with each sip, and the hearty port was present on the finish. All this was highlighted by a full bodied beer full of complexities due to its Belgian yeast strain. The finish to this beer was clean making it very easy to sip on, and based on the uniqueness of the barrel it had to make the list of best barrel aged beers of 2013.
Barrel Compilation: It’s one thing to enjoy one high quality barrel aged beer, but what about a combination of one breweries best barrel aged beers? That is exactly what River North Brewery in Denver did when they released their Barrel Reserve 2013, combining their favorite whiskey aged beers into one. The result is a dark full bodied ale, with a strong malt base and minimal hop bitterness. The barrel flavor was prominent, but not as strong as one would expect, and there was a brightness from the Belgian yeast strain this brewery is so well known for. This is all capped off clean finish that makes this a crisp, clean beer. What makes this such a great barrel aged beer is that it is so unique and no 2 years can ever be that same, making it not only one of the best of the year, but also one of the ones to most look forward to on a yearly basis.
While these are only a few of our favorite barrel aged beers from the past year there were several others that were all very good in style and barrel. 2013 saw tequila and gin barrels being utilized more than seen in years past, and more breweries are beginning to start active barrel programs on a regular basis. While 2013 was a great year for barrel aged beers this list already has us looking forward to what 2014 will bring.

What were some of your favorites from the past year? Let us know at

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