Skip to main content

Barrel Ageing: An Almost Debate

Barrel Ageing. There’s a two word conundrum that’s likely to create any pub chat debate within seconds. What do you think of it? Is there any point? What are your favourite examples? Are the prices ridiculous?

As a more recent addition to the beer blogging universe I know that there are some debates that will have become tired and been repeated long before I ever began. My two cents on such a subject are relatively worthless now. But, hey, this is my blog and these are my opinions so I’ll pretty much do as I please.

What brought me to write my judgements on Barrel Ageing was the increase in effected beers I’ve had over the last month or two. Summer Wine’s Kopikat Clynelish and Caol Ila proved to be, as I tweeted at the time, the best examples of Barrel ageing I’ve had to this day. The barrel aged 77 Lager at BrewDog Manchester left me pondering the sheer novelty side of the process. Whilst another BrewDog beer, Bitch Please, a collaboration with Three Floyds, showed how beers released originally as barrel aged can live alone.  

So that all seems pretty positive to me. And I happen to have a few special editions shoved in my stash so it’s time to really decide on this strange development of beer malarkey. To aid me with my opinions I’ve brought the most prolific “barrel agers” in the business; Mikkeller. Basically, the delectable Danish chaps will put any of their beers in an old alcohol barrel if it goes unattended for long enough. Plus they make some terrific stand-alone beers that they insist on using as Aged experimentation. Therefore, they seem the best bet for critical analysis. So I’ve brought From To Via 2011 barrel conditioned in Bourbon and Big Worse Barley Wine Red Wine Edition.

Let’s start with the Fra To Vil (From To Via) which is a big Imperial Porter and one I have been lucky enough to try on cask before. I remember enjoying it, but perhaps not as much as similar varieties. Still, putting Imperial Stouts/Porters in Whiskey/Bourbon barrels is almost a necessity for every brewery at present, so surely this will be brilliant. Thick and cloudy with little head, these murky brown waters ooze liquorice and coffee initially, yet there’s an odd sickliness to the scent that isn’t pleasant. To taste, it’s initially how I remember this originally on keg. A standard Impy with huge roasted malts, chocolate and coffee that’s almost too sweet at first. Then it’s suddenly sour. It’s hugely carbonated and oddly the first drink that came to mind was Fruli, with all it’s heavy sweet carbonation. I’m not getting any bourbon at all. I’m just getting a decent evening’s supper taken away by a strange sour mash. Disappointing.

In a completely different direction I’ll try Mikkeller’s Big Worse, which is regularly a big 12% barley wine. I love my barley wines and the idea of putting them into red wine barrels may just well be inspired. But then I’m apprehensive about how those caramel malts will mix with the sickly fruitiness. Let’s discover. It’s a clear blackcurrant juice pouring with no head but a fair bit of “fizziness.” The smell is a complicated mixed bag. Oak, sour berries, toffee fudge, leather and sawdust. The taste is just as complex. You can taste the original with spiced oranges and that beautiful caramel, but the wine is also apparent; that oakiness and red berry flavour from the nose is definitely there. But again there’s a lot of carbonation. The whole content starts to mutate into Rosé wine. This is as far removed from beer as I can remember beer being. I am enjoying it, but more for the experience, especially knowing that this doesn’t improve regular Big Worse.

Maybe these were two of the weaker examples, (or maybe Mikkeller don’t do it as well as some others.) Either way it proves that, whilst experimenting is all good fun, if you are going to charge huge amounts for your “experiments” put some thought into what ‘ager’ you use. Now I’ve drunk the beers, I’ve decided I don’t actually want to debate the original points. The whole critical analysis just seems a little pointless. As I said, it’s a discussion that has raged on for some period and will continue to so. Of course some will work better than others, but that’s the same for ALL beer. Personally, I find it just as rewarding to experiment with “bottle-aged” beers. Unfortunately, I may need to stash them somewhere far away from me so they remain unopened long enough for this to work. Also, I've used "air-quotes" far too much in this post, instantly making all content written void. Cheers!


Popular posts from this blog

"They Had Their Issues, So..."

      There’s a set of garages to rent as storage units near my workplace. One of them is taken by a local florist that uses it to store flower arrangements for various events, that are more often than not funerals.   As such, at least once a week at 8am I will pass a car being loaded up with flowers arranged into heart shaped patterns or the letters M U M. It is a grounding reminder that, as I mentally grumble my way through the upcoming arbitrary grievances of my ordinary working day, a group of family and friends locally is going through the hardest time. It provides much needed perspective on days when I could do with being reminded of all that I have to be thankful for.   These little moments explain to me why it is possible for us to share a communal loss when a celebrity passes away. Grief is often a personal and lonely experience, shared between a minority of people in your life. When a co-worker loses a relative or friend, it has little affect on me, bar signing of

The Ten Pubs That Made Me - Part 3: Dr Okell's / My Foley's Tap House and Leeds

A pint in Mr Foley's Tap House from December 2022     This is Part 3 (the fourth post) of an ongoing project. Please see the beginning of Part 0 for details.    Come the end of this journey, there may be a lesson in procrastination that I am unlikely to heed. These posts stem from a list that I made three years ago and a series that I embarked on 18 months ago. We’ve only now reached a 30% completion rate and with this post we are back to fail for the second time.   This odyssey began with a trip to Mr Foley’s Tap House in February 2022 – named Dr Okell’s bar on my first visits in 2005 – only to discover that it was closed. It did reopen by the time that the post was coming out and I managed a brief visit in December 2022. However, my July 1 st 2023 trip to Leeds, on which this post is based, is met with this sign at the door of the bar:      A quick check of social media shows an Instagram post from the day before (June 30 th ) announcing the closure of the

LIVERPOOL - the City that Craft Beer Forgot Part II (and found...)

After visiting Liverpool, one of my favourite cities, in February this year, and not impressing people with my rather hasty but honest verdict on the city’s lack of craft beer, I jumped at the chance to return last week and hoped to come out with a more attractive judgement. A couple of friends and I visited on a day out, with neither of them having been drinking in the city before. It was left to me – or rather, I volunteered – to plan the day’s itinerary and places to visit. I had a couple of new or unvisited places in mind myself, but knew it would be unfair to miss out on some of the city’s famous gems. With around 10-12 hours in which to fit in an entire city, I opted to concentrate on the famous Georgian Quarter and see if we had time for the Dale Street end later on.    We planned to arrive in the city for around 11a.m. just in time to walk up Mount Pleasant to the new-on-me, though I believe it has been opened three years, Clove Hitch on Hope Street for breakfast.