Bourbon Barrel Ageing - The Lowdown
Welcome to Bourbon Street
The humble barrel - Donkey Kong's weapon of choice, Bilbo's escape route from the Elvenking, and as it happens, a fantastic way to condition beer.
Over the last year or so we've been squirreling a variety of beers away in bourbon barrels. Ageing beer in casks imparts a range of flavours, depending on the characteristics of what was previously kept in them. As spirits or wines draw flavours from the wooden barrels over the years, they also leave behind their own individual personality; Scotch whisky casks can leave smoke, peat or light fruit, wine barrels can impart sour notes desirable in Belgian styles, and rum casks tend to add dark fruit and spice, and depending on the strength of the barrel's previous occupant, the ABV can increase significantly too. What makes bourbon barrels special is the blend of spice, vanilla, and smoky sweetness that they impart; it marries perfectly with dark beers and emphasises the qualities the beers already possess from the malt. So, when we got hold of a load of bourbon barrels, we put them straight to good use and filled them up with a range of dark beers, from a sessionable baby Scotch ale all the way up to an Imperial stout. Here's how they turned out.
Just recently bottled, Bourbon Baby is an experiment in how a lower ABV session ale will develop in cask. As it happens, very well indeed. This beer, now available on our online shop, blends toasty shortbread and blossom honey with brown sugar and spice, and has a demonic dark vanilla edge, all of which belie the initially low ABV and light body. This beer treads the line between light and dark, like the beer equivalent of Batman.
In the past we've experimented with a range of Scotch whisky barrels to age Paradox, but this time round we wanted to try something a little different. The sweet molasses and dark vanilla from the casks in which Paradox stout is currently ageing should marry perfectly with the dark chocolate and roasty flavours in the beer.
Our salt caramel popcorn infused Imperial ale was aged in a mix of rum and bourbon casks, and had developed a variety of complex flavours; smoke, vanilla and treacle being just a few. Woody notes and a well-rounded alcohol presence also feature in small amounts. AB:15 is now available on the online shop.
Lumberjack Breakfast Stout
Featured recently on the blog, Lumberjack Breakfast Stout is packed with massive twisting intertwined flavours, drawn from the variety of ingredients used to brew, including smoked malt, blueberries, coffee and bacon. In this instance, the bourbon barrel ageing was as much about giving the beer time to develop, and allow the stronger and overly dominant flavours to smooth out and blend together, taking 21 months in cask to reach this point. The end result is a spectacular beer with a light and dry mouthfeel, but all the complexity of a Russian Imperial stout.
Expect to see more bourbon barrel aged specialities in future, but be sure to tell what you'd like to see! Any other casks you think we should get our hands on? Let us know.