The Art & The Unknown of Barrel Aged Beers

The Art & The Unknown of Barrel Aged Beers

Once upon a time, when the seas were rough and colonialists’ sails billowed in the wind, wooden barrels were the trusted containers for liquid gold. Originally, these wooden casks were meant for logistics, not crafting flavour – but oh how things have changed! As beer sloshed around in these oak casks during long voyages, it underwent a transformation that is revered today.

Modern day brewers believe every barrel carries something different. Each barrel has a tale to tell – the type of wood, the level of charring, the liquid it once cradled – all contributing to this menage of flavours.

There are many options when it comes to choosing a barrel. While variety of different woods can be used to make a barrel (like acacia, chestnut, redwood & cedar), Oak is by far the most popular wood choice due to its tight grain (no leaks!) and ease of sourcing. Another big consideration is the liquid(s) that lived in the barrel prior to brewers getting their hands on it. Bourbon is the most common (see Bacchus ‘Salted Caramel Reserve’), as bourbon barrels are abundant because they can only be used once by bourbon distillers. But there are many more options from wine, port, and sherry through to gin, Scotch, and tequila (see Good Land ‘Café Mexicano XO’).

There are two main factors when it comes to how a beer will age in its barrel – climate and time. Barrels tend to ‘breathe’, changes in temperature and atmosphere cause the wood to expand and contract, pushing flavours in and out of the beer. Time allows for the beer to spend a longer period incorporating the flavours in the wood into the mix.

But here’s the twist – the unknown. Despite a brewer’s best efforts, there’s always an element of unpredictability. Two barrels, twins in every way, can create two entirely different brews. The ability to blend these different barrel contents to create a balanced and cohesive beer is an art form in our world.

So, as you raise your glass of barrel-aged bliss, remember the long journey this beer has been on to reach your lips. It’s a tale of hops and malt, oak and time. Cheers to the art (and sometimes luck) of barrel aged beer!

What to explore barrel aged brews further?

Shop Carwyn Cellar's full range of barrel aged beers!

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