Unique Barrel Uses for Your Brewery’s Portfolio

Innovation is always on the mind of a brewer and finding new and fun ways to create a flavor is important. Here are some unique uses brewers have found for styles and techniques in the barrel. 

Explore the Spirit Realm

Bourbon and whiskey casks are very commonplace, but looking for other barrels that have housed other types of spirits and wine types can help expand a brand’s portfolio.

Phil Roche, the Head Brewer for Ecliptic, told Brewer that a member of the brewery knew someone at Anne Amie winery. So the Portland brewery was able to house some beer in Pinot barrels to create the Callisto Blackcurrant Tripel, and the Cosmic Collaboration beer with Russian River Brewing, Belgian Hoppy Golden Ale.

Scofflaw released an Oud Bruin that spent two years in red wine barrels. It also has a mixed culture sour blonde that has been in wine barrels for 36-plus months that Head Brewer and Wood Cellar Manager, Joe McIntyre said they are really excited about.

“I plan to finish that one on a shit-ton of peaches and apricots,” he said, although the brewery mostly uses barrels to age its Imperial Stout, Absentium.

Ryan Schmiege of Cascade Lakes added that although the brewery’s barrel-aging program is small, they have had fun out of the gates aging a Kolsch in Tempranillo barrels.

“[It’s] not a style I see come out of oak often,” he said. He noted that they are also experimenting with Brown Ales in wood.

No Barrels? No problem

Schmiege told Brewer they have used spirals, cubes, and other barrel alternatives in projects. 

“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.”

Make Wood the Ingredient

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​.

Overall, ​Weldwerks​ won’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,” Skip Schwartz​, Innovation and Wood Cellar Lead, 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 examples 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 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!”

BARREL TRACKING TIP: Coming up with a barrel numbering system that works for you can also be super helpful. Weldwerks’ Skip Schwartz said he likes to number barrels to tell the age of the beer inside with just this number alone.

An example he gave was barrel #190402. It was the second barrel filled in April of 2019. The first two digits of the number represent the year the barrel was filled, the next two digits represent the month, and the last two digits represent the order in which it was filled.

“We warehouse anywhere between 350 to 400 53-gallon oak barrels at any given time, so it can sometimes be a bit of a nightmare trying to find the oldest ones,” he said. “Even with diligent note-taking and spreadsheets, we have had some from past years fall through the cracks. For example, last year, we found a few barrels of 24-month-old Double Barrel Sweet Disposition (a barrel-aged Stout collab brewed with our friends Mikerphone Brewing Company out of Elk Grove Village, Illinois). It was a fun surprise for all of the fans of the regular barrel-aged Sweet Disposition that had come out a year prior, but it definitely made us step up our barrel tracking and organization process.”

Photo courtesy Weldwerks

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