A new trend in the craft beer world is barrel-aged brews. The idea behind this practice is allowing beer to age in wooden barrels — often ones that had previously held spirits, which results in a smoother taste. Some of the barrel-aged beers also add distinctive flavors — from bourbon and brandy to burnt oak and even chocolate.
Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery, best known for its Goose IPA, is credited with developing the barrel-aging technique more than 20 years ago with its Bourbon County Stout, but it is only in the past few years that the process has gone mainstream, with breweries — both large and small — experimenting with all kinds of flavors in wood barrels, but mostly bourbon.
Not surprisingly, a number of Kentucky breweries specialize in barrel-aged beer. The Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. produces 13 different beers, four of which are barrel-aged, along with four different spirits. I found their Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout on tap at LoDa Bier Garten and in bottles at my local grocery store. It was excellent — dark and sweet, with very little head and a hint of bourbon, although the one on tap was better than the bottled version. Alltech’s Bourbon Barrel Ale was not as good, much more bitter, and not worth $4 a bottle from Rouses.
Another Kentucky brewery, Louisville’s Goodwood, is now widely available in our area on tap and in bottles. Goodwood produces seven styles of beer, all barrel aged, from stouts to pale ales. Old Shell Growlers had two Goodwoods on tap, the Bourbon Barrel Stout and the Red Wine Barrel Saison. The stout was very good, sweet and chocolaty, and the saison, while not bad with its hints of red wine, didn’t look or taste much like a saison. I also found Goodwood available in bottles ($10 for a 4-pack) in a variety of styles, including a Walnut Brown Ale and a Bourbon Barrel Ale. I tried the Brandy Barrel Ale and was not disappointed; it had a rich flavor and dark amber color.
Locally, Hattiesburg’s Southern Prohibition produces seven styles in its barrel-aged series, although I was not able to find any of them in the Mobile area. Fairhope Brewing Co. also offers a barrel-aged version of its Kingslayer Imperial Stout. It’s not available on tap, however, only in special large bottles. When I was recently at the brewery I was told they were currently out of the all the barrel-aged Kingslayer, but that a new batch had just been put in the barrels for seasoning and would be ready for bottling in about six weeks.
Speaking of Fairhope Brewing Co., it will hold its fourth anniversary celebration on Jan. 21 starting at 2 p.m. at the taproom. There will be live music and almost 40 different styles of handcrafted beer, many with Rocky IV themes (fourth anniversary, get it?), such as Eye of the Porter and Rocky Aleboa. For the $10 admission, you get a souvenir glass, one beer of your choice, and entry into a raffle for one of the remaining bottles of Fairhope’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Kingslayer Imperial Stout which they told me was sold out — I hope I win!