THE 6 PACK: BARREL-AGED BEERS

Adrian Tierney-Jones uncorks the finest beers that have slumbered in wood

This is how we should think of barrelageing: the long sleep; a beer brewed and then enclosed within a wooden tomb on a par with a Pharaoh whose retinue is certain he will resurrect and rule once again; time floating by, like lilies on a stream, with only the imagined scurries and scratchings of creatures we call lactobacillus, pediococcus and brettanomyces disturbing what seems an eternal sleep.

Then there is a rude awakening, a tap against the wood, almost like a cry for help, the emergence into sunlight. The beer is filled with a new sense of vigour, ready to start off on its own journey or happy to merge with another beer or be taken to another barrel whose wood is a different story.

During the great porter days of the 18th and 19th century beer was routinely aged in barrels, sometimes for up to a year or more. It ripened and was renewed by its time in barrels the size of modest hotels in modest seaside towns. Then as the brand new century dawned and world wars churned their weary way, brewers forgot what they used to do, they lost the art of ageing beer, they dismissed from their minds, memories of how they used to blend old and new, how they let the right microbes in, kept the wrong ones out; they forgot that beers could grow old and elegant, ready to be embraced by a younger generation of beer.

Time passes and retinues of practice return. Many breweries now have their own barrel farm, an odd phrases that’s crossed from the Atlantic and sounds more Big Mac than Old MacDonald had a farm. I was recently in BrewDog’s new sour beer facility, Overworks, where racks of barrels stood silently ready to do the brewer’s bidding. And if that wasn’t enough, there was an amphora, a direct descendant of those vessels that the Romans used to fill with wine (or even fish sauce). For beer, sleep it seems can take many forms. ATJ

 

 

/ Founders Brewing Co., Backwoods Bastard, 11.1%

Trust the US masters of the barrel aging process to make one of the most complex beers here. Dark fruits shine through smacking Scotch. Masterfully balanced and effortlessly drinkable.

/ Duchesse de Bourgogne, Verhae Vichte, 6.2%

In Flanders, wood aging has endured for several beer styles, including the vinous red ales.

/ Wild Beer Co, Beyond Modus IV, 8%

This is perhaps the best expression of Wild Beer Co’s passion for wood. It’s a blend of the flagship wood-aged beer Modus Operandi, and aged again. Expect sour cherries and balsamic.

/ Burning Sky, Monolith Vintage, 8%

In rural East Sussex is a brewery full of wood. Monolith, a dark, almost stout beer, has vatted on oak for two years, bringing an astonishing complexity.

/ Buxton Brewery, Highlander, 10.5%

Perhaps some of the БТ8.49 went on the gorgeous label, but most (it’s not cheap aging beer) it’s time spent swilling around Scotch whisky barrels. But wow, this is as complex as a single malt.

/ Siren Craft Brew, Barrel Aged Shattered Dream, 9.1%

Broken Dream is Siren’s highly rated breakfast stout. This version has lingered in the copious amounts of barrels at the brewery. An expressive bourbon is tempered with a savoury woodiness.