In the search for new flavours, the craft sector has rediscovered the qualities of wooden barrels in the beer brewing process. The results are nothing short of spectacular.
Barrel-aged beers tend to be distributed in limited and exclusive batches, and now they are becoming consolidated as one of the most tempting processes for producers. What’s new on the market? Keep reading…
Centuries ago, wooden barrels were used for transporting and keeping beer in perfect condition until it reached its destination after a months-long journey by land or sea.
However, today, besides being a part of the furniture and decor of numerous pubs, bars and on-trade establishments, barrels are fulfilling a new mission. These containers have become the most precious wooden recipients for certain brewers, and manufacturers have decided to sign on to the exciting trend of storing their creations in them for months. The objective is to obtain new complex and creative results to offer the consumer.
Using barrels in beer brewing requires knowledge
Barrel-aging is an art that has been transplanted to the brewery, and it requires considerable experience and knowledge. It’s a method that goes way beyond simply putting the liquid in a barrel and letting it sit for a time. So, it’s crucial to have experts onsite who can study the processes and different chemical interactions.
Ever since the craft world rediscovered the qualities of wooden barrels for aging beer and developing complex and unique liquids, the trend has been spreading worldwide. To name a few places, barrel-aged beers are a hot product in the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Let’s take a look at the trends and most common materials used in this technique.
Where the barrels come from
Different types of barrels are used to add the desired aromatic and flavour sensations. Oak barrels are the most common, and they are typically employed either new or used, in the latter case after certain types of beverages like liqueur wines or sherries have been aged in them.
There are also others that previously contained other types of distilled spirits, such as rum, bourbon, whisky or even tequila. The U.S. brewer Founders Brewing, whose majority shareholder is Mahou San Miguel, has opted for these types preparations and creations. It’s kicking off the new year by launching an extensive list of barrel-aged beers under a drip marketing strategy (in November it had already envisioned a series of additional innovations). Its latest play, the 2021 “Barrel Aged” series, looks quite promising and is highly valued in the sector internationally.
The months-long aging time gives the beer smoky notes of vanilla, hazelnut and caramel, among other nuances.
Other options use a process of pre-toasting inside the barrels in order to bring out and intensify the wood flavour in the beer.
A few options that are perfect for barrel-aging
Within beer brewing, there are certain styles with characteristics that lend themselves especially well to aging. Although dark beers and beers with a higher alcohol content are normally chosen, diversity is increasing and now barrel-aged lagers or even IPAs are also becoming trendy.
1. Barrel-aged lagers are coming on strong
Brewmasters have gotten moving in recent years, and there are more and more promising results available. We are talking about lager beers which, with certain procedures and rigorous aging processes, are becoming very well positioned in the market. Aged in bourbon barrels or using barrels that formerly contained certain wines, they are capturing a wide consumption sector.
2. Saison, or seasonal beers, and Bière de Garde
Without being at all the same thing, Saison beers are often compared to the beverage of the gods because they share certain similarities. Among them are the flavours that come from the tannins and lactones, as they are stored for months in barrels that previously contained wine.
The same thing is happening with farmhouse beers, such as the French “bière de garde”, which require aging to achieve good results.
3. Imperial Stout
If we’re talking about barrel-aged beers, we can say that Imperial Stouts, normally aged in bourbon barrels, are one of their leading exponents.
4. Amber ale and red ale
These styles from the United States meet all the requirements for undergoing an aging process to obtain new and very promising results.
5. Experimental Double IPA and NEIPA recipes
Let’s not lose sight of this aging technique, because some of the best Double IPAs in the world that have received recognition in recent months are the result of aging in wooden barrels. If the IPA is one of the most-consumed styles at the moment, aged Double IPA or NEIPA recipes are making a splash.
6. Aged sour beers
It is said that they are the perfect combination, as they’re halfway between beer and wine. Sour beers aged in wine barrels, with aging times that vary according to their evolution, sound good.
7. Fruit beers, lambics, etc.
The production of beers that ferment for months is a strong trend in terms of consumers who are increasingly knowledgeable and ready to savour unique results.
8. Spirits aged in beer barrels, a turn of the screw
If barrel-aged beers are everywhere, the spirits sector is breaking into the market with a new production method that turns this craft trend on its head. These are whiskies aged in barrels that previously contained beer. The first series that made it to our country is part of the Glenfiddich Series with the Glenfiddich IPA variety, which is finished in beer barrels. The experiment is the result of two products whose raw material is malted barley: single-malt whisky and beer.
The Irish Jameson brand has also joined the experiment with the Jameson Cask Mates product, a whisky aged in artisanal dark beer barrels.