Dallas Craft Beer Examiner
Welcome to the newest hot trend in craft brewing: barrel aging. Certainly, beers have been aged in all sorts of spirits barrels for a long time but now it has found its own submarket in the American craft beer scene.
Aging beer in a barrel does many things. First, it allows a beer more time to age and mature, which can help lagers and some of the stronger, harsher beers considerably. Second, the barrel beer ages in can impart a flavor as the beer extracts essential oils from the wood. And, of course, along with the nature of the wood comes the flavors of its previous contents.
Because of the time commitment, barrel-aging by nature produces a premium and limited-edition product. What is surprising is the scale at which some of the established Texas craft brewers are embracing this trend. Gone are the days of a handful of barrels obtained for a specialty release—nowadays, “aging rooms” are being planned at breweries.
Blanco’s Real Ale Brewing has already released what they are calling their Mysterium Verum (“Real Mystery”) products, which are already appearing locally on tap. This is a somewhat vaguely defined series of aging their normal portfolio of beers in barrels with a variety of spirits, wines and woods for a fantastic myriad of effects. Already seen in Dallas have been their barrel- aged Coffee Porter, barrel-aged Real Heavy and their “Kraken” (barrel-aged Sisyphus).
Likewise, Fort Worth’s Rahr & Sons—who due to a new roof are only about two weeks from brewing once again—is also planning not only barrel-aging some specialty products but also establishing a dedicated aging area in their revised brewery space. Already, their Winter Warmer Christmas seasonal has had tremendous local success in past years aged in whiskey barrels.
Saint Arnold of Houston has already experimented with barrel-aging their stout, and doubtless now in their new brewery will have the space to pursue more. Even tiny upstart (512) Brewing of Austin has aged their Pecan Porter in an extremely limited hand-bottled edition that is worth more than gold right now.
Barrel aging has its benefits and drawbacks, and pairing styles of beer with particular casks is as much an art form as brewing. But experimentation is what craft brewing is all about.
Availability: Both Real Ale and Rahr & Sons have plans to package their products in 22-oz bottles very shortly, which is a natural format for these limited-edition beers.
Originally published May 12, 2010, at Examiner.com