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Your Beermonger: Branching Out from Bourbon Barrels

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Looking for a quick read about craft beer this week (besides this column right here)? Check out this retrospective on Founder’s KBS; it’s almost a mini-history of how quickly “big beers” and bourbon barrel-aged everything became widely popular seemingly overnight.

The article caught my eye not only because seeing the letters “KBS” paralyzes me with fear (retail quirk), but because I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of the proliferation of barrel-aged beers lately. I’m the first to admit that bourbon barrel-aged beers aren’t for everyone, and for those of us that enjoy them not every one that’s made is good.

There are a lot of imbalanced bourbon barrel beers out there, whether by virtue of being too “hot” (boozy, astringent to the point of unpleasantness), too sweet, or the result of beer styles being applied to barrels that perhaps shouldn’t have been. Personally, I still think after all these years that when bourbon barrel-aging works, it’s great. What I’ve been curious to see is a greater diversity of barrels being used for aging beer, and now we’re starting to see that happen.

Wine barrels seem like a logical next step to me, and more breweries are beginning to experiment with them. Victory has found success with Red Thunder (their Baltic Thunder Porter aged in red wine barrels) and White Monkey (Golden Monkey Tripel in white wine barrels), and Allagash has aged its Interlude in red wine barrels for years, making for an elegant Belgian-style Ale with the vinous notes you’d expect.

Not all experiments work out, of course; I think breweries looking to use wine barrels either should have a knowledgeable “wine guy” on staff or one who can consult them in barrel selection. It’s too easy to overlook elements like Brettanomyces that are widely used and accepted in beer but considered a flaw in wine.

Brett can make some beers more interesting, but if you’re building a wine barrel aged beer for cellaring the wild yeast can sap the beverage of sweet or fruity notes prematurely. Scaldis Prestige de Nuits is a great example; it’s a wonderful Belgian Quadrupel aged in barrels bought by the brewmaster at the Hospice de Nuits St. George. With the barrels emptied and bottled back at the brewery, the Prestige was added to the freshly emptied barrels. The combination is magic.

Belgian brewery Hof Ten Dormaal has been trying out alternative wine/spirits barrels with its Barrel Aged Series. Dormaal has spent the past couple of years taking its outstanding Blond and Dark Ales and putting them in everything from Armagnac barrels to Port, Madeira, Sherry, Brandy, and Grappa barrels. They’ve even sourced Scotch barrels from Ardbeg and Port Charlotte.

Baltimore’s Heavy Seas revamped its Holy Sheet Abbey-style Ale last year with the help of Brandy barrel-aging, a perfect match. Just this week, Harrisonburg’s Three Brothers Brewery is releasing bottles of their Rum Barrel Belgian Dubbel — I got to try this a couple months ago when I visited the brewery and highly recommend it. As brewers experiment more, look for new barrels to be used for aging beer; while they might not always work, they’ll all be interesting and there are sure to be a handful that start new trends of their own.

Until next time.

Note: As I was preparing to send this week’s column in, news broke of the passing of Jack Joyce at the age of 71. Mr. Joyce was an early Nike executive who in 1988 co-founded the Rogue Brewery, and was central in establishing its rebellious attitude. Mr. Joyce’s dedication to his vision of Rogue as a brewery that always pushed boundaries and tried new things never wavered. Mr. Joyce was a legend whose efforts helped establish craft beer from coast to coast; if you get a chance, raise a glass in his honor this weekend.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

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