So, you want to offer a bourbon barrel-aged beer at your brewery because it’s different from the rest of your portfolio; plus, anything with the word bourbon on it is sexy, and this trend is NOW! If you’re lucky, your beer will turn out tasting like a great brew with a sweet kiss of complementary caramel-vanilla bourbon and your story and signature beer style will come shining through. Orrrrrr…it will taste like a tall, cold glass of 80-proof bourbon with a wee drop of beer. Those whiskey-saturated barrels from the big bourbon players take a few fills before they settle down and stop completely overwhelming the beer.
“But,” you say, “used bourbon barrels are cheap and plentiful, and who doesn’t want their brand to be associated with smokin’ hot names like Bulleit and Whistlepig, or classics like Woodford Reserve and Four Roses?” I’m all for upcycling, but when everyone is shooting for uniqueness in exactly the same way, they end up being, well, the same.
The only rule in craft brewing is that there are very few rules and small batches are easy, so why not tell a fresh story from everyone else? To celebrate the opening of the Festival of Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beers (#FoBAB) in Chicago last week, I attended a tasting at Revolution Brewing Company hosted by my Tonnellerie Cadus colleague from the west coast, a winemaker himself who has been working with breweries and cideries for the last few years on finding out how new French oak barrels impact various beer styles. The results were cool and unusual…and different!! While there were two brews from bourbon barrels for comparison, they were well made but tasted similar to the hundreds of bourbon-barrel aged beers and barleywines offered at the festival the next day.
Russian Imperial Stout, Crux Fermentation (Bend, Oregon). 11.5% ABV.
Aged 6 months in Cadus Origine series Mid-Tight Grain barrel (Medium+ toast). Bacon fat, nuts, some DMS. Sweet on the palate, Kahlua-like, bitter-chocolate hop finish, round, viscous, weighty.
Peach Saison, Temperance Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois). 8.2% ABV.
Aged for 6 months in a Tonnellerie Cadus Sensoriel series Volume barrel (standard Medium+ toast). Cobbler in a glass. Fresh peaches, vanilla, Gerber baby food apricots. Toast and yeasty, fresh baked bread. Simple, fresh, fruity, and light, with a clean, bitter-hoppy finish.
Cadus Hard Apple Cider, Tin City Cider (Paso Robles, CA)
The unoaked control cider was über-clean, zippy with a lot of tart green apple, and very dry and refreshing (reminiscent of one of my favorite dry-hopped ciders from Citizen Cider in Vermont). Extremely gulpable.
The eponymous Cadus oaked version was fermented and then aged 4 months in Tonnellerie Cadus Sensoriel series Access (custom Medium+ toast) and Volume (standard Medium+ toast). Sweet-presenting classic French oak, round and broad in the mid-palate, subtle spice. Apple pie: Brioche pastry, cream.
”Real Wild Child” Eugene Porter, Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois). 6.8% ABV.
Aged in Tonnellerie Cadus Sensoriel series Volume (standard Medium+ toast) and Intense (standard Medium++ toast). Sticky toffee pudding-molasses meets sour orange peel. One barrel in this batch went rogue and soured; the spontaneous second fermentation in that one led to the sour orange peel notes.
StraiGht Jacket Barleywine, Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois). 13% ABV.
Traditionally aged in used bourbon barrels. Stewed fruits, roasted nuts, molasses, Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Maderized. Heavy. Sweet, sweet. Sweet.
“Mean Gene” Eugene Porter, Revolution Brewing Company (Chicago, Illinois). 8.5% ABV.
Aged for 36 weeks in used Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels. Lighter, coffee notes. Lighter weight than the rest. Slightly tart. Malty. Part of Revolution’s Deep Wood Series, which also includes Deth’s Tar, Ryeway To Heaven, Blue Gene, and Bean Gene.
Thank you to Revolution Brewing Company for hosting the tasting and Revolution Brewing Company, Temperance Brewing Company, Crux Fermentation, Tin City Cider for taking the time to age their beverages in something besides bourbon barrels and sharing the results. If you want to find out more about ways to age beer besides using bourbon barrels, click here to contact us. Cheers!