My first taste of barrel aged beer came a couple of years ago and it wasn’t pleasant. You know that feeling you get as a teen when you first see a fine whiskey, a Frank Sinatra Album or a beautiful women. You know there is something very good there, but you know you need to step up a long way to understand what it’s all about. I had that feeling when I first heard that my favourite local brewery had produced a barrel aged Porter.
I could only imagine the learnings which lurked in those champagne bottles waiting for me. I purchased one for the grand price of $25 and stored it lovingly. The next time my partner in beer showed up I proudly presented it with a flourish.
This particular Porter was aged in used Pinot Barrels. The barrels are given a light rinse first but not enough to remove the wine flavour which has soaked into the wood. Apparently this gives the beer gentle Tanins and fruit of the woods flavours. After four months in the barrel the beer is conditioned in a 750ml Champagne bottle for another 6 months. Apparently this gives it notes of “red currents, earthy gumboots, a stroll through the barnyard”.
I poured the sacred and expensive fluid into two of my best beer glasses and puckered up expecting the “red currents, tannin's and earthy gumboots” to transport me on a fruit filled walk through the woods. Instead I was rudely smacked around the face with oak, old wine and the after taste of moldy blue cheese. The smell was accurately described by another reviewer as ‘unwashed crotch’.
Let me add that I can drink straight absinthe, tequila, Jagermeister or chartreuse happily. There is nothing chaste about the taste buds which lurk in my mouth like small pink and highly seasoned professionals. But I couldn’t stomach the stuff, to my taste it was horrible. So I put this into the same “check back in 10 years” box kids put brussel sprouts, blue cheese and opera.
When I heard that Epic had made a Oaked Aged Armageddon IPA my interest was rekindled. I’m glad I gave it a second chance because the Epic Oaked Aged Armageddon is one of the finest beers I’ve tried. I was hooked, my palette open to a whole new range of flavours and experiences.
So what is barrel aged beer, and why at $12 plus per bottle should you try it?
Aging matures a beer like a whiskey or wine. Contact with wood in a barrel imparts the characters of the wood and what was last stored in the wood. Beer which has been aged in a new wood barrel gets the sort of flavours I’ve come to expect in bourbon, that richness and a complex blend of vanilla and a unique woody character. It is as if you are drinking a great beer with a hint of whiskey and a piece of steamed pudding.
Beer can also be aged in a used barrel to impart more complex flavours. Some common options are barrels previously used to store wine, bourbon or sherry. I’m told this lofty little technique can merge the best characteristics of both beverages. Although in some examples it makes a train wreck of both.
My advice is jump online and order yourself at least a couple of Barrel aged beers and see how you go. If you can find an Epic Oaked Aged Armageddon IPA that is an excellent place to start the journey into aged beer.