The Vintage Brew: Barrel-Aged Beer

In the old days, brewers served beer aged in oaken casks. Now, brewers are bringing back the barrels to flavor beer.

The tradition of aging beer in wood began in Belgium; even today barrel-aged “red ales” are still sought after, one of the pricier brands sold in the U.S. is made by Rodenbach.

Garrett Oliver, author of “The Brewmaster’s Table” says of Rodenbach, “The most important tradition is that of aging the red ale in huge vats of unlined oak. The wood is home to dozens of wild yeasts,” which spur the fermentation of residual sugars. Thus, over the months and years, the ale grows in acidity, aroma and depth of flavor. American brewmasters, such as Wisconsin’s Dan Carey of the New Glarus Brewing Co., took that tradition and rolled out a slightly different barrel.

FiftyFifty Eclipse Elijah Craig 18 Year
Aged In: Oak Bourbon Barrels / Six Months

What happens when you take an award winning Imperial Stout, put it in oak bourbon barrels, and then age it for six months? One of the most epic beer tasting experiences you will ever have: ECLIPSE. Imperial Stouts are noted for being very rich substantial beers, and FiftyFifty’s Totality Imperial Stout does not disappoint on this fact. Brewed in small 300 gallon batches, this masterpiece is only crafted once a year. Made with the finest malts, hops, fresh mountain water and yeast, over 18 separate ingredients lend their unique character to this beer.

 

Old Rasputin XIV
Bourbon barrels / Nine Months

From the kettles and brite tanks of North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, California spawns this Russian Imperial Stout, Old Rasputin. A staple in snifters across the country, this big, bold and robust stout really defines the R.I.S. style for us. It’s widely available, fairly affordable, intensely complex and ages wonderfully.

What you might not know however, is that North Coast produces a rare and limited barrel aged version of this fine elixir. Released annually, this special offering was first produced in 2006 to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Old Rasputin. After a short hiatus (there was never a XIII vintage), fans are excited to hear that the beer has returned. Initially a very limited release, North Coast has expanded production of Barrel Aged Old Rasputin and it’s now popping up on shelves in various markets around the country.

The Tide & Its Takers
Chardonnay barrels / Eight months

It begins with a soft and spicy floral nose. The brett notes are measured and reverberate around the lemon-cream-pie hops like ripples around a buoy in a beam sea. Wood notes drift and float by and bring a bit of vanilla toward the end but mostly the wood does the important work of softening the heat of a multi-phase fermentation that is three fathoms deep. Putting a snifter of this beer up to your lips is like putting a conch shell up to your ear.

Like a powerful ocean you cannot take this beer for granted. It’s complex, it has a lunar-pull that makes you reflexively go for the next sip, and it puts you in the right mood to appreciate life and nature’s bounty. To paraphrase folk-punk Michelle Shocked, You know you’re in the largest state of mind in the union when you’re anchored down in Anchorage. Cheers!
-Sam Calaglone, President & Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

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