Whiskey, sherry, brandy, wine—all libations we’re used to seeing aged in oak. But given recent trends in brewing, we may soon add one more to that list: beer.
As profiled in The New York Times
, oak-aged beers are making a comeback. Eric Asimov notes that, hundreds of years ago, all beer ended up in wooden barrels; today, metal is favored, as it interferes less with the beer’s flavor. Recognizing the flavor and depth that comes from aging in wood, however, some brewers have returned to oak barrels to create a very different sort of beer.
While oak-aged beers vary as widely as oak-aged wines, they tend to have several characteristics in common: a brighter, smoother palate; a high alcohol content, ranging from 7% ABV upwards to well over 10%; a less hoppy flavor; and oak-derived undertones, setting off notes of fruit, spice, or malt. Some brewers employ barrels that have already been used to age spirits—infusing each batch of beer with flavors reminiscent of bourbon, wine, or rum.
Though Asimov recommends the 2006 Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien
from Switzerland’s Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes—at, he concedes, $34.95 for a 25.4 oz bottle—other less pricey (if slightly less complex) versions exist. Edinburgh brewer Innis & Gunn
ages its pale ale in barrels once used for bourbon or, in another variety, rum. New Holland Brewery’s Dragon’s Milk Ale
has a deeper, caramel-like richness, and Odell Brewing
recently exhausted a limited-edition run of oak-aged ale Woodcut No. 1
—with the golden ale Woodcut No. 2 to follow in the spring.
Just sip these beers carefully—with flavors to savor, these are no Miller Lites.