The fashion, taste, interest call it what you will has been progressing this way for some time now.
Started really by Todd Ashman of the Flossmoor brewery, in Flossmoor, Illinois, now of 50/50 brewery in Truckee, California – on a professional basis, having observed homebrewers fermenting their beers in bourbon barrels – a subject that I recently bridged with him when I was in his company. His early adoption of this technique blazed a trail for a unique style of beer, centred around the region between Detroit and Chicago – noted brewers such as Kuhnenn, Three Floyds, and Bells are keen proponents of this technique. Sometimes you will see the beer barrel aged for a limited release project – or in somecases blended back into beer to accent everyday releases. This technique is also starting to emerge in the beer mecca that is Belgium – the Struise brouwers have taken their very impressive Black Albert, and aged it in a Four Roses Bourbon barrel- called Cuvee Delphine – a quick look at beer rating sites like Ratebeer and their top 50 will give you an insight into just how influencial this has been on many breweries.
Breweries in the UK have been slowly adopting, where as the midwest in the US has the proximity to a source of very expensive barrels – the UK brewer has had to turn to Scotland for similar materials. Typically the beers tend to be big dark, imperial stouts, those with enough body and strength to carry the concentrated flavour notes rather than swamping them. To mind one of the early adopters were the now highly regarded Thornbridge Brewery, others have brought barrel aged beers out – Lovibonds of Henley and Gadds or Ramsgate, and I am sure you’ll have heard of the Paradox beers from BrewDog. There is a close sense of origin between the Thornbridge Brewery and BrewDog – one of the brewers of Brewdog is once of Thornbridge.
So, here we have a brewery well versed in brewing a good imperial stout, and then they have sourced three different cask flavours – Mortlach, Macallan, and Caol Ila. The Speyside, Highland and Islay notes will shine through the intense blackness of their beers – a perfect beer for the beer and whisky lover.
This is not a barrel fermentation as the Burton Union system suggests, or what Firestone Walker have adopted – this is “simply” ageing a beer in a cask from a distillery – capitalising on the residual oak, char, and spirit bound flavours. Considering that a used bourbon cask can weigh something in the region of 30lb heavier when fresh from the distillery, there are clear indicators just how much the barrels can influence the beer! When travelling – some brewers aged their beers for 50 days, right through to 300+ some stored ambient, some stored cool to cold. Some had developed a nose for particular notes that said to the brewer “‘I’m ready” – this is still a new art form, and some are doing it very well, some come out as tarry alcoholic messes.
This is a great deal of investment for many breweries, making said beer, finding shipping and purchasing said cask – then to top it off – not being able to sell a beer for nearly a year! I thank you, dear brewer for taking this chance!
I have had the pleasure of sampling some of the greatest (highly sought after) barrel aged imperial stouts, listed on Ratebeer, and I as much as I am not a big whisky lover – I really enjoyed the Highland. Some might say that the idea of going through this process is a waste of good beer, or good whisky – and these are for the “beergeeks” out there – certainly not, they are a fantastic after dinner drink, contemplative and decadent with it.
They will also age very well.
Thornbridge St.Petersburg Highland, Islay, and Speyside cask aged will be available on Beermerchants.com – along with anything else I can get my hands on.