The beer calendar is always changing and half the fun is keeping up. As you shift from light and summery lagers and fresh hop IPAs to darker, fuller options, keep barrel-aged beers in mind. These cellared beers offer robust flavor profiles and complexity on par with some of the great wines of the world. Better still, barrel-aged beers are idyllic sippers for the longer, chillier nights ahead.
What exactly is a barrel-aged beer? Well, a beer that’s spent some time in a barrel. Several cozy months (sometimes years) in a wood vessel marries flavors and creates a a kind of dynamic synergy most beers lack. The alcohol content tends to be a bit higher and the beer styles themselves are a bit darker and stronger and therefore able to withstand the effects of barrel.
Any brewer can throw a stout in some French oak for a spell and bottle something palatable. As a result, there are a lot of beers floating about in this esteemed category. Yet, the following are especially tasty, with lingering, detailed flavors and involved enough personalities you’ll want to pour them into a bulbous glass so you can really take the whole thing in.
This annual release from Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery is reliably delicious. It’s a decadent imperial stout, with rich layers of anise and molasses and a subtle hoppy component. The latest installment deftly blends nugget, cascade, and delta hops with a smooth and chocolatey malt bill. At 11% ABV, it’ll send you right off to sleep.
Modern Times City of the Dead
Acclaimed California brewery Modern Times is always up to something delicious. This barrel-aged stout with coffee is exactly that, aged in bourbon barrels for extra roundness. It’s a thick number you can practically cut with a knife. We suggest letting it breathe for a few minutes so you can enjoy all of the nuance at play.
Prairie Artisan Abraxas
This special release from Oklahoma City’s Prairie Artisan is eagerly anticipated every year. The recipe typically changes year to year but often involves creative accents like ancho chiles or cinnamon sticks. It’s aged over a year and offers a silky-smooth texture and ceaseless finish. Treat it like a wine, though, as it tends to be very high octane (13% ABV or thereabouts).
Great Lakes Imperial Smoked Porter
This Cleveland-made brew is crafted with muscovado, affording it a nice raw, brown sugar quality. The smokiness is dialed in and goes great with the malt profile. Unsurprisingly, the beer fares well with gamey foods and pretty much anything off the smoker. Presently, it’s a tough one to get your paws on as it’s a pub-only beer but perhaps with increased popularity, a bottled version will come to fruition.
Upland Brewing Cherry Sour
There are a lot of stouts that go to barrel but the category is not solely attached to this particular style. Upland Brewing makes a whole family of great barrel-aged sours, including this delightful fruit ale made with cherry. The tart cherries come in from a local farm in Michigan and lead to a beer that’s bright, dry, and pleasantly fruity. Use of a lambic-style yeast gives it a fetching Belgian quality, especially aromatically.
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