It’s barrel-aged beer season! By now, you have probably had your fair share of giant dark beers that resided in whiskey barrels for months on end – maybe even years. This edition of the Brewer’s Corner will go into a brief overview of barrel-aging and all that goes into it. Pour a glass of Imperial Endeavor and have a seat in your favorite recliner… the one in the basement… that only you sit in. Clothing optional.
We start seeing the creation of barrels around 1000 BCE in Northern Europe. Typically, they were used for shipping and storing dry goods like nails, iPhones, and spices. Eventually, wine and spirits were stored in them as barrels didn’t leak and were good at keeping pests out. Connoisseurs figured out that you can get a lot of flavor out of the wood when stored for long periods of time. This is what began the use, manufacturing, and manipulation of wood to create all sorts of different flavor compounds in alcohol.
Those who create barrels are called coopers. These crafters are responsible for the manufacture of over 2.5 million barrels a year, using mostly oak. Most of these will go to wineries and distilleries. Although some barrels are created specifically for brewing purposes – like the foeder. A foeder is basically a large barrel for fermenting beer and wine that can be temperature controlled, cleaned, and re-used for a very long time. Prior to stainless steel, most beer was put into foeders for fermentation. A foeder is a very large barrel set vertically that can store in excess of 160 gallons of beer. Alter will be getting its very own set of foeders in the near future to make classic-style lagers and ales, like in the old days before memes and Amazon Prime.
Here at the brewery, we prefer a heavy toast on the inside of our barrels. This creates more intense flavor in the beers that are aged in them. This can range anywhere from vanilla to ginger. For the most part, we re-use heavy toast bourbon barrels that were just recently emptied and shipped directly to us from the broker. Once we receive them, we want to fill them as soon as possible. The longer a “dry” barrel sits, the more it wants to shrivel up and fall apart. When this happens, there’s a fat chance you will be able to hold any liquid in it. This year we are filling Old Elk and used maple barrels with our barley wine. Once filled, we pretty much stick them in the barrel-room and forget about them until the fall of 2020. At that point, we will brew another batch of barley wine to blend with the aged and add more body and complexity before bottling.
We hope you all really enjoyed this year’s barrel aged beers (Cherry Hypergiant, Lunar Reconnaissance, Imperial Endeavour), and that your holiday season is as fun as when Bing Crosby danced with Danny Kaye. Be on the lookout for a new edition of Dank You coming this January, as well as the aforementioned barley wine. In the works, we’ve also got a new hazy ipa, spruce-tipped lager, witbier, and the return of Heavy Squeeze (lemon tart ale).
See you in the taproom, and happy holidays!
Matt & the Brew Team