Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant

Eight Barrel-Aged Beers That Channel Spirits

“Barrel-aged beers have been around for millennia, but recently they’ve shot up in popularity,” says David Flaherty, author of the Grapes and Grains blog. Beer lovers geek out on them for their unique taste profiles. Aging beer in any wood lets it mellow, but aging it in wood that previously held spirits allows it to take on additional flavors that are hard to replicate. “Every barrel is different,” he says. “Drink it, and it’s gone.”

Common Barrels to Age Beer In

Bourbon: The most popular, Flaherty says, “particularly for darker, higher-alcohol beer styles like stouts, porters, and barley wines.” Imparts bourbon’s characteristic vanilla-caramel flavor.

New oak: Adds vanilla, coconut, and grassy-floral notes.

Wine: Aging in a used red or white barrel picks up the wine’s flavor, and the wood itself can house microorganisms that let the beer ferment further.

Other spirits: Rye, brandy, tequila, rum—brewers experiment with all of these to give a beer a touch of that spirit’s flavor, whether subtle or dramatic.

  1. Harviestoun Brewery Ola Dubh 18
    1

    Harviestoun Brewery Ola Dubh 18

    Brewed in: Clackmannanshire, Scotland
    Aged in: Scotch

     

    To make Ola Dubh, the brewery’s Old Engine Oil black ale is aged in Highland Park 18-year-old Scotch whisky barrels. It smells like “tar, smoke, nuts, toffee, and tobacco,” says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery.

    Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant

  2. Brooklyn Brewery Improved Old Fashioned
    2

    Brooklyn Brewery Improved Old Fashioned

    Brewed in: Brooklyn, N.Y.
    Aged in: Rye

     

    “Built on the spice notes of a ‘winter warmer’—like clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon—this take on the classic cocktail balances bitter gentian root with cherry juice and sugars,” says Brennen Wysong, beer aficionado and Bloomberg Businessweek copy editor. “The rye malt gives it an extra zing.”

    Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant

  3. Deschutes Brewery The Abyss
    3

    Deschutes Brewery The Abyss

    Brewed in: Bend, Ore.
    Aged in: Bourbon, pinot noir, and neutral oak

     

    “Black licorice, vanilla, and cherry flavors are prominent,” Oliver says. “This beer brings an almost cocktail-like sensibility to the fore.”

    Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant

  4. Russian River Brewing Supplication
    4

    Russian River Brewing Supplication

    Brewed in: Santa Rosa, Calif.
    Aged in: Pinot noir

     

    “Starting with a brown ale base, it gets all the sourness from critters living in the barrels, then is hit with the addition of cherries,” says Flaherty.

    Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant

  5. Firestone Walker Brewing Agrestic
    5

    Firestone Walker Brewing Agrestic

    Brewed in: Paso Robles, Calif.
    Aged in: French oak, American oak

     

    “It begins as their flagship Double Barrel ale, then it’s transferred to French and American oak barrels for a couple of years,” says Kyle Kensrue, general manager at Randolph Beer in New York. “From the barrels, it pulls red berry, toasted oak, and vanilla.”

    Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant

  6. Founders Brewing Kentucky Breakfast Stout
    6

    Founders Brewing Kentucky Breakfast Stout

    Brewed in: Grand Rapids, Mich.
    Aged in: Bourbon

     

    “One of the best versions of the style,” Kensrue says. “In addition to the bourbon barrel character, chocolate and coffee are added for a luscious, complex beauty of a beer.”

    Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant

  7. Allagash Brewing Evora
    7

    Allagash Brewing Evora

    Brewed in: Portland, Maine
    Aged in: Brandy

     

    “It’s bright and citrusy with notes of honey,” says Tristan Colegrove, beer director at Haymaker Bar and Kitchen in New York. “The Portuguese barrels lend it some slight oak notes, vanilla, and an anise-like spice.”

    Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant

  8. Crooked Stave Surette Provision Saison
    8

    Crooked Stave Surette Provision Saison

    Brewed in: Denver
    Aged in: Oak

     

    Oak “elevates the citrusy, tart characteristics and lets the complex, almost barnyard-funky character of the yeast develop,” Colegrove says.

    Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh for Bloomberg Businessweek; Prop Stylist: Dave Bryant