Next-Level Barrel-Aging Tips

Beer & Wood. It’s timeless.

Of course, many consumers have clamored for it more and more, even though it’s pretty much an ancient art in the pantheon of beer brewing. But what was just a means of storage has become an ingredient more so than a necessity for craft breweries.​

That means breweries have been exploring options on types of wood, what to put in the wood casks, and even the reverse: putting the wood in beer.

Vanilla Absentium has probably been ​Scofflaw Brewing’s biggest “hit” that ​the Georgia brewery continues to release periodically.

“​That particular beer is a blend of vanilla extract barrels as well as whiskey/bourbon barrels that we directly add vanilla beans to​,” explained Head Brewer and Wood Cellar Manager, Joe McIntyre​. ​“​Sometimes ​two-plus​ pounds in each barrel.

“We also do different variants of the Absentium brand, vanilla/maple, coffee, coffee/maple, hazelnut, and a few others.​“​

One fun experiment ​Funkwerks did was using new acacia wood barrels to age ​its Saison.

“​New oak is far too aggressive for beer but Acacia is more subtle and has a nice tropical fruit/toasted marshmallow character that blends well with our Saison​,” said co-founder Gordon Schuck​.

Skip Schwartz​, ​the Innovation and Wood Cellar Lead at WeldWerks​, said that the Colorado brewery ‘hang​s​ our hat​‘ on the fact that ​the brewery is willing to try almost anything.

​“​We like to work in some classic styles into our non​-​barrel-aged portfolio as well as our barrel-aged portfolio​,” he said​.

​In 2019 Weldwerks brewed a ​Doppelbock and instead of lagering in a tank ​they lagered it in fresh ​Bourbon barrels, and stored in ​its cold room for ​nine​ months.

“We thought ​it ​was a fun take on the style​,” Schwartz said.​ If you really want to go “out of the box,” though, last year the brewery also made a Hot Sauce Barrel-aged version of its Taco Gose.

“This was made with our friends over at Horsetooth Hot Sauce Company based out of Fort Collins,” Schwartz​ said. “We collaborated on a special taco-inspired hot sauce recipe that we then aged in a freshly emptied barrel of Medianoche (A GABF gold-medal winning barrel-aged Imperial Stout).

“After about eight months of being aged in our barrels, the hot sauce was packaged and the barrels were returned to our brewery, then refilled yet again, but this time with our Taco Gose. Both the beer and the hot sauce (which was only available for sale in Weldwerks taproom) were very well received. We are currently working towards another run of hot sauce and coinciding beer.”

When it comes to Medianoche, Schwartz​ feels consumers tend to like the coconut one-offs more than any other variant that Weldwerks does.

“This year, Starry Noche (a coconut/hazelnut barrel-aged Imperial Stout) has been the clear cut winner among our customers,” he said.

This year, a new version of Coconut Medianoche that came out after a two-year hiatus has been well received.

“Last year we released a single barrel Tequila Barrel Aged Guava Lime Gose as a draft-only taproom exclusive, which we received great reviews from,” he said. “We brewed a large-scale amount that will be released this summer in cans, after spending over eight months in tequila barrels.”

Ryan Schmiege at Cascade Lakes told Brewer that they served the Oregon brewery’s Bourbon Barrel-aged Imperial Porter directly from the barrel and uncarbonated at a beer dinner this past spring.

“It was received very well,” he said. “We look forward to releasing the finished beer in the near future and hope our fans enjoy it just as much. We don’t have plans for repeating specific beers at this point, but rather look forward to keeping new interesting offerings coming out as they’re ready.”

Schmiege has used spirals, cubes, and other barrel alternatives in projects previously. “These alternatives offer nice flexibility specifically for small projects,” he said. “Because these products don’t have the same penetration of wine or spirit as a traditional barrel does, they just need to be used differently.

“A higher wood impact is generally the result. Knowing that and tailoring the beer around that goes a long way.”

Overall ​Weldwerks​ doesn’t experiment too much with using just wood.

“We stay away from spirals or wood chips for the most part, but this year we have started experimenting with different wood types,” Schwartz​ said. “Since nearly all of our barrels are American Oak, we have been looking to source and learn about what different types of flavors can be achieved simply by swapping out the wood varietal.”

One of the most interesting types to Schwartz​ is amburana, a Brazilian wood used to age the Brazilian spirit Cachacha — a distillate made from sugarcane juice, similar to rum.

“Over the course of the next few years I would really like to try to get my hands on any kind of wood that has been made into barrels and learn about the complexities in flavor each one holds,” Schwartz​ said. “Maybe we will even get some one-of-a-kind barrels made for us!”

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