View Full Version : Barrel Aged beers
I have recently noticed a resurgance of beers that were aged in barrels(or in tanks with oak in them). Before I left Louisville, I counted at least 6 bottlings that pronounced their "oakedness". Though several of those were carrying crazy prices, a few were reasonable. I brought one of those down with me to enjoy at the end of my first week of school(somehow that's today, as we started on a Tuesday). So this evening I'm partaking of:
Great Divide Brewing Co.'s Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout.( in the ever lovely 22oz bottle)
The pour reveals a lovely black ale topped by a short-lived, medium brown head.
The aroma is darkly floral, that hints at its well-hopped(for a stout) nature.
The taste contains a good balance of oak and hops layered over the creamy base of malty goodness. This is a thick beer(as an Imperial stout should be). It has a velvety mouthfeel.
The finish is quite long and sweet (and I suspect cloyingly so by the time I finish the bottle)
Overall I think this is a succesful product, though I would really like to see some of the breweries use these techniques in some more standard fare(say, a Bitter?) to really relive what beer was like.
I have recently noticed a resurgance of beers that were aged in barrels(or in tanks with oak in them). Before I left Louisville, I counted at least 6 bottlings that pronounced their "oakedness". ... I would really like to see some of the breweries use these techniques in some more standard fare(say, a Bitter?) to really relive what beer was like.
The question of how much oak flavor might be in beers of old that were either aged in oak tanks or packaged in oak kegs has been hotly discussed in homebrewing and beer history circles. I am convinced by the historic evidence that the beer did not, as a rule, become flavored by the wood, and that it would have been considered a flaw if it had.
Casks and aging vessels in Britain and American in the 19th and 20th centuries, at least, were lined with pitch, which the OED defines as "A tenacious resinous substance, of a black or dark brown colour, hard when cold, becoming a thick viscid semi-liquid when heated; obtained as a residuum from the boiling or distillation of tar, also from the distillation of turpentine; used to stop the seams of ships after caulking, to protect wood from moisture, and for other purposes," (and is the source of the term "pitch black"). This prevented any leaching of wood flavor into the beer.
Furthermore, even if unlined casks and vessels were used, the flavor would be leached in their first few uses, and they were reused many times.
There are dissenting voices ato this opinion, including at least one beer writer, Pat Baker, who says that the old Newark, NJ, Ballantine IPA through the '60's had a notable oak flavor. I have my doubts, though, that this actually came from oak vessels.
This is not to say that oak can't be a nice addition to some beers. I have been involved in recreating Ballantine IPA, and have consulted with other homebrewers. one of them in California has made several wonderful brews in which he included a light oak touch from toasted oak chips. It gave a nice complexity and winey touch.
I just got an ex-EC12 barrel from HH last month that is sitting in my garage. I have organized my homebrew club to fill it with an English-style barleywine (as opposed to the modern American types with their aggressive, citrussy American hops, which I also like). Eleven or 12 of us will brew up five gallon batches of the same recipe - about 10% abv and well hopped, and we will fill the barrel.
After some time, we will draw five or more gallons every once in a while and probably fill a keg for dispensing at our annual BeerBQ and Christmas party. Then we will replace the BW with new brew of the same type.
We hope that the beer will gain complexity as it ages, and that replenishing it with new will give it some freshness as well.
Based on my historical reading, wood did not feature, or not prominently, as a flavour in beers except possibly in the old vat-aged porters but even then the strong, semi-acid flavours of those beers would have dominated the palate. I agree too with Jeff that for a long time many vessels used to hold beer were lined with resin, this was the case with the wood vats which were once used to store Pilsener Urquel. Some beers are stored in unlined wood, e.g., the aged component of Rodenbach, but again as Jeff states these old barrels would long ago have given up their woody taste to the brew. I have tasted beer stored in a new oak barrel unlined and it is not pleasant, I am sure the twang would have been regarded as a fault in the old days. As for Ballantine IPA, it was definitely stored in wood including the beer's stint in Indiana at the old Falstaff plant there. It was last brewed by Pabst in, I believe, Illinois, and by then oak containers were not used, but before that they were a part of the beer's production process. On the other hand, the beer as I recall it (I sampled it from the mid-1970's until its demise in the mid-1990's) did not taste really of oak. It tasted like a good English best bitter, like, say Granite's Best Bitter does today in Toronto. I was a big fan of the beer which used, I believe, Bullion for its signature hop taste, or that was one of the hop varieties used. There was a brewery on the west coast that made a reproduction, under a different name. This brewery was in Oregon I think and the name of the beer is on the tip of my tongue. I heard the brewer later decamped to China to brew for a brewery there. Something tells me he may have worked for Pabst at one point, but I am not sure. Anyway that version or rather tribute was very good but not quite like the original.
Here is another part of Ballantine history that may interest some. According to a website which still exists (I'll try to find it) devoted to the history of Ballantine, which started out in Newark NJ in the 1800's, after Prohibition ended the re-established brewery hired a brewer from the U.K. He started to make Ballantine Burton and IPA. I have never seen evidence (the website is unclear on this point) that IPA-type beers were made by Ballantine before Prohibition. I am not saying they were not, and I don't rule out that this U.K. brewer (I believe he was a Scot) recreated a beer style known to Ballantine before 1919, but I think it is quite possible the opposite is true: this brewer decided to make Burton and IPA beers simply because he was familiar with the styles and liked them. No doubt the old (pre-1919) Ballantine brewery made stock and cream ales but I have never seen evidence it made an India Pale Ale, so the story about how the IPA was a long-lived survivor of the British ales that once had writ on the U.S. East Coast stretching back to Colonial times, etc., etc., may be exaggerated. Anyway it is a great pity that Ballantine IPA has not been revived commercially because it had its own taste profile and nothing in the microbrew area has really come close to its particular palate, in my view, saving that Oregon tribute beer but I don't know if it is still made.
a website which still exists (I'll try to find it) devoted to the history of Ballantine
Quick reply here, is that site http://www.falstaffbrewing.com/ballantine_ale.htm ?
More when I have more time.
That's the one, Jeff. Note that before World War 1 the company had operated a "lager brewery" and given up its original "ale brewery" (but that does not mean top-fermented beers were not produced at the latter as a specialty). The pictures of IPA labels are clearly post-mid-1930's. Not that this is either here or there but in the mid-1800's when the first Ballantine came to America, the prevalent beer style in Scotland was Edinburgh Ale or Scotch Ale as known in foreign markets. This was quite different to India Pale Ale which was invented (supposedly) in London by Hodgson. An excellent book on beer by Martin Cornyn published a couple of years ago makes a good case by the way that strongly hopped ale sent to the sub-continent to withstand the journey and the climate in Bangalore was simply the old October/November beer under another name. This was a seasonal beer brewed in the autumn before brewing regularly ceased in winter and was strongly hopped to last for a year or two in pre-refrigeration days. Everything old is new again. Did a Ballantine brew however an "India Pale Ale" in late 1800's America? This is possible but I have never seen direct evidence.
MacTarnahan IPA made by MacTarnahan Brewing Company, a unit of the merged Portland Brewery of Portland, Oregon and Pyramid Breweries of Seattle, Washington, is the beer I meant which offers a palate similar to that of the now-defunct Ballantine India Pale Ale. Formerly, MacTarnahan IPA was called Woodstock IPA. I understand Woodstock IPA utilised hop oils extracted in a still (yes) to honor the use of similarly distilled hop essences by the old Ballantine Brewery. I recall tasting Woodstock IPA and it was very good, if anything better than Ballantine IPA, and I am sure MacTarnahan IPA is similar if not identical to Woodstock IPA. For anyone wanting to know what Ballantine IPA was like in its salad days, particularly the Newark, NJ heyday, the MacTarnahan IPA is the closest you will get unless (like Jeff) you try to brew it at home!
The old Ballantine IPA with the "Quiz in the Caps" was my favorite IPA. I wish I had some right now.
Who said the big boys in beer don't think outside the lines at times? I just stumbled across a holiday packaging from Anheuser Busch called Michelob Celebrate. It says "Oak-Aged Dark Vanilla-2005" on the box and the following description:
"This limited edition holiday lager is hand-crafted by our master brewers with real vanilla beans and aged on bourbon barrel oak. Richly aromatic, Michelob Celebrate delivers a unique flavor perfect to toast special occasions."
I bought the only two packages I saw but will be looking for others so I can taste one here and bring at least a couple with me to the Sampler for, well, sampling. I did get two nice fluted snifters in the packaging. I just wonder if by "aged on bourbon barrel oak" they mean they put barrel staves in with the brew in the way they add the beechwood strips for brewing Budweiser or if it was aged in the barrel????
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