Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt scotch, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan moonshine made from bananas. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.
Oak barrels are magical. Leave some booze inside of one, and when you take it out, it’s somehow drastically better than when you put it in. All kinds of complex chemical reactions take place when you put alcoholic beverages in an oak cask, and just as with spirits like whiskey, rum, or wine; a bit of barrel aging can work wonders on beer. It mellows the of alcohol molecules, brings out certain flavors, and depending on the type of barrel and what it was previously filled with, imparts the beer with wonderful new flavor notes that you wouldn’t otherwise get.
Here’s a few of the best barrel-aged beers you can get right now:
Huge Arker — Anderson Valley Brewing Co.
After its primary fermentation, this badass imperial stout is aged in Wild Turkey barrels until it fully matures. It’s f*&%ing awesome. Despite boasting an ABV of well over 13 percent, it’s as smooth and luscious as any stout you’ve ever had. If you like whiskey and dark beer, this is for you.
Tequila Barrel Noir — Almanac Beer Co.
Just in case the name didn’t already tip you off, this one is aged in used tequila barrels. Don’t be fooled though — despite the fact that mixing tequila and stout together sounds like a horrible idea, this is an amazing beer. The fruity, sweet agave flavors blend beautifully with the beer, and tend to accentuate the chocolatey malt flavors and contributing bright splashes of lime and caramelized bananas.
The Abyss — Deschutes Brewery
Most of Deschutes’ beers are pretty tasty, but this one is stupid good. It might be my favorite. It’s an imperial stout, partly aged in Bourbon, Pinot Noir, and new oak barrels — so it’s a cigar lover’s dream. The roasty bitter backbone is highlighted by the brewers’ addition of blackstrap molasses, licorice, vanilla beans, and cherry bark. Are you drooling yet?
Straight Jacket — Revolution Brewing Co.
The vast majority of barrel-aged beers you encounter will be stouts, but occasionally you’ll come across an IPA or a barrel-aged barley wine. Straight Jacket is one of the latter. It’s fruity, creamy, and aged in bourbon barrels to give it a few hints of brown sugar and oak.
Natian McGuiness — Natian Brewery
If you like dark roasted coffee, you’ll love this beer. It’s aged in barrels that previously held Kahlua, so in addition to all the standard flavors you’d expect from a good imperial stout, it’s also got strong notes of coffee, coconut, and smoked oak. It’s tough to find, but if you do manage to track some down, buy it before somebody else does.
Oak Aged Yeti — Great Divide Brewing Co.
Great divide makes two versions of its Yeti imperial stout: a regular version, and this version that sits in old bourbon barrels until it’s properly conditioned. They start out the same, but end up completely different. The barrel-aged variant ends up with a much bolder notes of coffee, smoke, and wood. If you don’t like sweet beers, look no further.
Did we leave out any of your favorites? Tell us what we’re missing out on in the comments!