5 Favorite Barrel-Aged Beers

A look at barrel-aged beers, with 5 great examples

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Modern breweries traditionally use steel or copper tanks to age their brews, but by now, most craft beer drinkers have had a chance to sample a beer that has been aged in wooden barrels instead. Although used historically to great effect in Belgian sours and traditional Lambic and Flanders beers, it was only recently that modern American brewers widely adopted the practice.

One legend begins with Dougal Sharp of Scottish brewery Innis & Gunn. The original Innis & Gunn beer was "born by accident" during a distillery’s quest to create a whiskey finished with ale flavors. Sharp created an ale that was stored in the barrels before liquor was placed in them for aging, at which point the beer was discarded.

But, it turns out workers on the distillery floor had been drinking the aged ale, and one day they told Sharp how good it was. Upon discovering that, he quit his job and took a year to perfect this new beer, bringing forth the style of barrel-aged beer.

It’s a good story, but the fact is that some U.S. breweries had already begun this practice, such as Goose Island, which brewed the first batch of its barrel-aged Bourbon County Stout in 1992.

However the trend began, more and more brewers are becoming enamored with the flavors and nuance that comes from aging in wine, bourbon, whiskey, or even sake barrels. These days, barrel-aged offerings come from companies as large Budweiser, from large craft breweries like Samuel Adams, and from micro-brewpubs like Baltimore’s Oliver Breweries.

Stouts, dopplebocks, and barleywines are typical candidates for barrel aging, because their malt character stands up nicely against the strong flavors oak barrels usually exhibit. Here we take a look at some classic examples of the style.