Wood Aging

I started writing this post ages ago, and since then there have been a number of posts on wood-aging.

A trend that has been noticed recently is barrel ageing of beers. Usually stouts though any beer which has high enough alcohol content for ageing has probably been stuck in a barrel at some point. 

Some beers are aged in "virgin" casks; i.e., they've not been used previously whereas others may come from the whisk(e)y/rum/brandy/(insert spirit here) industries.

I seem to have built up a sizeable stash of these so thought I'd put my thoughts down here. Unlike some people I enjoy barrel aged beers. It can be overdone resulting in an alcoholic mess or oaky soup, but when done well it can enhance and complement the base beer's characteristics.

There are probably two well-known barrel agers in the UK and both based in Scotland. Their methodology couldn't be more different. Whilst Innis and Gunn was originally a waste product from the beer conditioning of new oak casks it gained a small following and the company was formed around it. Since then they've also released spirits barrel aged editions including the Irish Whisky stout reviewed below.
Brewdog on the other hand, have a large stash of whisky barrels from all over Scotland and showcased how their different characteristics come through in a standard (though by no means mundane) base stout. This is their Paradox range. They've also barrel aged a large number of their limited release products*. I have three of these coming up next month.

So on to the reviews. First up is a biggy: Great Divide's 17th anniversary Wood Aged DIPA. Pours dark amber, with fluffy beige head and aroma redolent of marmalade on toast with underlying vanilla pod sweetness. Well balanced wood, malt and hop notes flavour wise, alcohol hidden expertly. This is an example of how to wood age well and flys in the face of the assumption that it has to be a stout to be barrel aged.

The aforementioned Innis and Gunn pours dark ruby with vanilla and toffee apple on the nose. Quite highly carbonated with more toffee apple, sweet caramel, chocolate. Lingering sweet finish. Pretty well done.

Goose Island Bourbon County pours black as night with a lacing of beige and a continual eruption of small bubbles that burst on surfacing. Vanilla custard and caramel liqueur on the nose. Thick and rich and warming with chocolate, robust barley, through coffee, chicory and a long warming vanilla finish. Coffee comes in afterwards and rumbles on alongside oaky influences and a final whisky kiss. This is a fantastic beer.

Its becoming a more widespread practice within the UK too, with brewers such as Hardknott (with their Æther Blæc in four iterations this year), Summer Wine, Black Isle, Harviestoun^ and St Peters experimenting. Even the Mighty Fullers is involved with their Brewer's Reserve beers now approaching its fourth year.

*I recently reviewed Brewdog Bitch Please, another barrel aged beer
^With their excellent Ola Dubh range


  1. I've had mixed reactions to barrel-aged beers. In cases where there's a non-barrel-aged version of the beer, I've found myself preferring it to its aged sibling more often than not. (A striking exception to this is Mikkeller's "George!", whose bourbon barrel version was far and away my favourite new beer of last year, and one of my favourite ever.)

    Looking forward to the Great Divide "17th Anniversary" beer. I have a bottle in the house; given your tempting description of it above, I might have to move it up the agenda...

    1. I'd reccomend that Michael, as with all IPAs it'll be prone to lsoe hop character over time and will become more skewed toward wood perhaps.

    2. Following that recommendation now. This is delicious stuff! The wood aspect is quite restrained.

  2. From my first taste of Innis and Gunn Many years ago I was sold on the idea. Personally I think it's A fantastic new dimension to beer. However, no doubt like every other technique that has been mastered by a few, it will be done terribly by many more. You just have to look at a long history of train wrecks involving overhopping and adding inappropriate ingregrients or extracts to the boil. One day you'll come across a beer at a festival that jumped on the band wagon in a hurry that make you pull a face. So yeah, great idea, but important to remember that barrel aged beer won't always automatically mean gooder beer.