Whiskey, sherry or muscatel, the current trend on the worldwide craft beer scene is barrel aging. Creative brewers place their special brews in pre-used wooden barrels for months at a time to give them a distinct flavor.
Thanks to the international craft beer movement, the variety of types and therefore also tastes is growing hugely. Young brewers have been digging out ancient recipes or interpreting existing styles of beer in completely new ways. Now, creative hop artists are discovering another exciting flavor palette: they are placing their specialty beers in wooden barrels for months at a time to create new taste experiences, for example with beer flavored with coconut, walnut, vanilla or marzipan.
The flavor comes from the barrel
In Belgium, there is a long tradition of this storage in wooden containers. Here, lambic beers have always been left to rest in barrels; however, in other countries too, such as the USA, Canada, Austria or Germany, brewers are increasingly discovering the possibilities of barrel storage for new flavor experiences. These aren’t show effects, like you might find at the Munich Oktoberfest, but instead creative brewers are using barrels that have previously held spirits–such as rum, whiskey, and tequila, right through to port wine and sherry.
Craft beer from a whiskey barrel – a worldwide trend
Breweries on the west coast of the USA are considered pioneers of barrel-aged specialties on the craft beer scene. In addition to Sierra Nevada Brewing, Stone Brewing or Anderson Valley Brewing, the Firestone Walker Brewery in California also refines some beers in spirit barrels. A top-fermented Belgian beer style is on trend, and is characterized by a high alcohol content, dark color and powerful flavor–aged in a whiskey barrel. The result is full-bodied and creates flavors of toasted wood, coconut and cigar tobacco on the palate.
Pioneers on the craft beer scene
In Germany, Camba Bavaria in Truchtlaching, Bavaria, is counted among the pioneers in this area. The local oak-aged beers are refined by being aged for six to nine months in oak barrels from a wide range of sources. The brewery team closely compares these delicately flavored, exclusive specialty beers to fine brandies. An Amber Ale is left to rest in the Camba halls in a rum barrel, which adds notes of walnut and heather on the palate. A light Camba Bock is aged in a muscatel barrel, which gives the drink special flavors of white wine, dried apricots and wild honey. While another ale and the Weizenbock mature in a bourbon barrel.
Another expert in barrel aging is Markus Hoppe from Hoppebräu. Once a year, he creates a true miracle for the taste buds from barrels. In this past winter, the creative brewer dropped a bombshell in the form of an 11 percent stout with an almost syrup-like consistency. The beer was aged in three-year-old whiskey barrels from the multi-award-winning Slyrs distillery in Tegernsee. It enthralls beer enthusiasts with flavors of dark chocolate, vanilla, espresso, dried fruit, and liquorice. Hoppe then put his Imperial Stout into new barrels; however, this time they were 12-year-old Slyrs barrels from a Bavarian single malt whiskey. Hopefully it will be ready by the upcoming drinktec trade fair.
Drinktec – an ideal place for beer lovers to meet
To find out more about barrel-aged beers, visit the place2beer at the drinktec trade fair, where you will find innovative brewers and qualified beer sommeliers willing to share their knowledge, as well as one or two barrel-aged beers to try for yourself. In addition, wood-aged brews are now an important category at the European Beer Star competition, one of the most renowned in the world. The public tasting session at the awards, to be held on September 12, will offer every drinktec attendee the opportunity to test and rate top-quality beers from around the world. There will certainly also be some rare specialty beers from various breweries and barrels.
- Barth Haas Group
- Bayerische Brauerbund
- Brewing, Food & Beverage Industry Suppliers Association (BFBi)
- Deutscher Brauerbund
- Gebo Cermex
- Sahm GmbH
- The Brewers of Europe
- William Reed Business Media