Sunday, March 17, 2013
If barrel-aging was the top beer trend among big, established breweries in 2012, then 2013 looks to be bringing something just as exciting: Micro-barrel projects.
Take, for example, yesterday afternoon's festivities at Denver beer bar Hops and Pie, which tapped five barrel-aged creations (pictured above) from five Front Range breweries. These weren't just any concoctions chosen by the beer makers, though - they were gems aged six months in Maker's Mark barrels given specifically to the breweries by Hops and Pie. And when barrel aging becomes that accessible, it's a joy to celebrate.
One could talk about the brilliant offerings of the quintet. Odell's combo of Mountain Standard and Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout, known as "Decadent Double Black Hooch," integrated the tastes of chocolate and hops with the vanilla touch of oak and a background of whiskey. And River North's Avarice became a complex, dark-as-night beast intertwining tastes of bourbon, chocolate malt and licorice when aged.
But what's worth noting even more is that such profusion of barrel-aged experiments means the average drinker no longer has to save up the better portion of a week's paycheck to get a corked bottle of barrel-aged beer. It may not be long before every brewery and beer bar of merit will keep an oak-aged offering on tap at all times.
To think: Just 15 years ago, old whiskey and wine barrels were seen as aged wood, used up from their original purpose with nothing more to do.
Even the early experiments with barrels nearly scared some of the great artisans off. Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker noted at this year's Vail Big Beers festival that his early experiments with chardonnay barrels tasted like salad dressing. Now the California company is busting barrel barriers with Sour Opal, one of the most exciting beers of the new year.
Ah, yes, it's good to live in a time when brewers push boundaries every day. And while barrel-aging may already be going big time, the wider use of the practice may turn up new tricks and styles of which we haven't yet thought.