Alex Greig, founder of Fuggles bar and bottle shop reveals his love for barrel-aged beers and highlights some of the offerings he has in store…
We’ve recently had some lovely bottles come in from some great brewers who have been doing some wonderful work with barrel-ageing their beers. This process can, generally, do a few things to a beer. Firstly, if it’s a used barrel (for example, an ex-Bourbon) it will impart some of those flavours (such as vanilla and oak) into the beer. This works wonderfully with big, dark beers.
Barrels can also be used to age and allow wild fermentation to take place – giving the beer a unique sense of terroir each time they are used thanks to the presence of wild yeast in the barrels. It also gives the brewer an opportunity to blend beers – something particularly common with certain styles of sour beer, where barrel-aged beers will be selected based on flavour and quality and blended to create a particular flavour profile and balance in the final beer.
Some are wonderful on a warm afternoon, others by a nice log fire! And seeing as the weather can’t quite make up its mind as I write this column I’ve picked a few beers perfect for either…
Recently, we’ve taken in some new beers from one of our local favourites – Beak Brewery in Lewes. It has just launched its first set of foudre-aged beers. ‘The Mariner, The Barrel’ was brewed with local heritage grain from the South Downs and aged in an oak Chianti foudre, with loads of fresh rhubarb. This brings lots of wild yeasts to the party and over a period of eight months, the beer has undergone its secondary fermentation with these wild yeasts allowing a gentle acidity to come through, with some fruity honey, sourdough and a subtle hint of pepper.
For Beak’s second release, ‘The Red Leviathan’ takes a similar idea, but this time it has been aged on fresh raspberries and then blended with with a barrel-aged Yuzu saison. Light and zesty, with notes of lemon, almond, cherry and raspberry, I always find beers like this really appeal to anyone who loves ciders or natural wines, or just enjoys trying new, fun and experimental flavours.
But what about if you’re into big, bold and darker beers? Barrel-aged stouts are always a treat – and the flavours of the ex-barrels used – be it whisky, Bourbon or wine always impart another layer of delicious complexity to the beer.
De Struise is a small Belgian brewery that we love to work with. It specialises in brewing big, dark, barrel-aged numbers and we have one of its biggest to share with you. ‘Ivan The Terrible’ is number 16 in its Black Damnation series. The original base beer is De Struise’s renowned Black Albert Belgian stout and this series focuses on ageing the beer in different barrels. This 15%(!) Imperial Stout has been aged in Speyside whisky barrels, imparting an obvious whisky note alongside some of the characteristics of Speyside – fruity, caramel notes come through alongside an underlying roasted cacao note from the beer itself.
De Molen is another European brewery, based in the Netherlands, that has always had a strong barrel programme, although sadly we don’t see very much of it these days. ‘Hel & Verdoemenis Kokos’ is another big stout, although a little easier going at 10.9%. This has been barrel-aged in Bourbon barrels, giving you lots of delicious oak and vanilla in the beer. De Molen also aged this on roasted coconut chips, which combine really nicely with the notes of cocoa and coffee present in the beer.
Two beers to savour and sip as the nights draw in from two of my favourite breweries specialising in the style and magic that is barrel-ageing.