Always searching for something new, craft brewers are putting more creative spins on barrel-aged beers. Most recently, the segment known for Bourbon barrel-aged unicorns is being reinvigorated with brews aged in a wide array of barrels—including those that once held wine, rye, Scotch, Tequila, and even gin.
Founders Brewing Co., for example, recently introduced Daycap Lime, a gose-style ale aged in Tequila barrels. “People love Tequila drinks like Margaritas and Palomas,” explains brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki. “Beers made with those inspirations tend to generate a bit of excitement.” Daycap Lime, with an abv of 5%, is also a refreshing choice during the warm summer months, he adds, noting that the Tequila character lends itself well to the tart, citrusy flavor of a gose.
Portland, Oregon’s Gigantic Brewing Co., meanwhile, offers the gin-barrel aged Pipewrench IPA. “The juniper flavor of the gin goes extremely well with IPAs that have citrus and pine notes,” says Van Havig, owner and master brewer. Pipewrench—which is aged in gin barrels from Ransom Spirits in nearby Sheridan, Oregon—is available year-round in Gigantic’s taproom, with limited distribution on draft and in bottles in Oregon, Washington, and California. “The people who like Pipewrench absolutely love it,” Havig says. “We often hear that it’s someone’s favorite beer.” Pipewrench isn’t the only beer the Oregon brewery ages in barrels. Its annual Massive! barleywine and Most Most Premium Russian imperial stout are both aged in a variety of barrels, including those that once housed Scotch, Irish whiskey, rye, rum, Mezcal, Port, and Pinot Noir. Among other brands, even the venerable Bourbon County barrel-aged stout from Goose Island Brewing has been aged in barrels other than Bourbon. The Reserve Rye Bourbon County stout variant from 2019, for example, was aged in 100% Rittenhouse rye barrels.
Charlotte, North Carolina-based Birdsong Brewing opts for aging its Liquid Lies sour ale in red wine barrels with black currant purée. “Due to the berry flavors in red wines, I decided that a red wine barrel would complement the sour ale,” brewer Jack Bannon says of the limited release brew that’s aged in American oak barrels for three months. “Consumers really like it, particularly the little bit of sweetness that comes from the barrels,” he adds. Gigantic Brewing has also experimented with aging beers in wine barrels, including a series of mixed fermentation brews aged in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay barrels.
In another unique effort, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery earlier this year unveiled a special release of its popular 120 Minute Imperial IPA aged for one year in freshly emptied barrels of Samuel Adams Utopias, the bi-annual strong ale from sister brewery Boston Beer Co. The Delaware brewery recommends that the 17% abv 120 Minute IPA Aged in Utopias Barrels, packaged in 12-ounce bottles ($40 a 4-pack), be enjoyed shared or aged.
Beer retailers welcome the new brews. “Customer response has been positive for beers aged in barrels other than Bourbon,” says Gabe Perez, beer department manager at Garfield’s Beverage in Barrington, Illinois, one of the chain’s nine stores. “Many express their appreciation for the experimental flavors and subtle nuances of these variations,” notes the retailer, pointing to beers like Deschutes Brewery’s The Abyss, aged in rye barrels, and Central Waters’ Brewers Reserve Key Lime gose, aged in Tequila barrels. Barrel-aged brews at Garfield’s are priced between $10 and $30 a bottle, depending on the brewery, availability, and the aging process. At the four-unit Hop City beer and wine bar and bottle shop, with locations in Georgia and Alabama, founder and CEO Kraig Torres says, “We see a fair number of sour beers aged in wine barrels, including Sherry, Viognier, and Chardonnay.” In total, Hop City offers about 300 barrel-aged beers over the course of a year, priced from $10-$45 a bottle or can.
Brewers and retailers agree that with the ongoing diversification of barrel-aged beers, the future for the segment is promising. “Lower-alcohol barrel-aged beers like Daycap open the door to another set of consumers and occasions,” Founders’ Kosmicki says. Perez expects that more craft brewers will experiment with barrel aging and expand variations. “As consumers become more knowledgeable and discerning about their beer, we anticipate continued interest and demand for the unique creations and aging techniques that barrel aging provides,” he says.