Whisky Advocate

Review: Oak-aged beers

December 1st, 2010


Many beers on the market are aged in oak for a spell. (More than you might think!) Here are several interesting ones — many of which were aged in whiskey barrels.

96 The Lost Abbey Angel’s Share “Grand Cru,” 12%, $20

A blend of beers of varying age from brandy and bourbon barrels, and there are also some Cabernet Franc grapes added to one of the barrels. It’s a fascinating beer! Dark russet color. Incredibly complex, with thick toffee, molasses, caramel-coated roasted nuts, vanilla, dark fruit (fig, black cherry), charred oak, tobacco, and suggestions of dark chocolate and black licorice. Good oak grip on its rather warming finish. A classic sipping beer.

92 Nebraska Brewing Co. “Mélange a Trois”, 10%, $20

Aged in French chardonnay wine barrels. Beautiful fluffy white head, and hazy marmalade in color. Complex fruit marries with the malt (green grape, rhubarb pie, plum, caramelized pineapple). Creamy in texture, with a soft toasted oak finish. Curious, distinctive, and very compelling. (Think oak-aged Belgian-style tripel, with some white grape influence.)

89 Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo, 9%, $12

Bottle conditioned and aged for over a year in oak barrels that previously contained cask-conditioned beer. A great addition to this legendary brewery’s range of beer. Sweet notes of nutty caramel and toffee meld with raisin and dried apricot, along with a suggestion of tobacco, plum skin, fig, and anise. The oak influence is noticeable throughout, but it is nicely camouflaged until its pleasantly tannic, lightly gripping, dry, warming finish. Nicely done!

82 Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer, 6.6%, $3

Lighter in color, body, and alcohol than the other oak-aged beers I’ve reviewed lately, and the only one where I could use “thirst quenching” as a descriptor. Gently malty, with silky layers of caramel, vanilla and light toffee, peppered with delicate citrus. The textural impact of the oak is more subtle, emerging mid-palate, and imparting a gently dry, tannic (polished leather) finish. A distinctive beer, given that most oak-aged beers are big, brooding, sipping beers.

26 Responses to “Review: Oak-aged beers”

  1. Not a microdistillery, but the Michalob Winter Bourbon Cask (yes, I said MICHALOB) is actually very good. I had the Samuel Smith and remember liking it a lot.

  2. Ernest says:

    I enjoy quite a few o the oak-aged beers on the market today. However some brewers have over done the oak influence imo. Too many simply dump th beer into a bourbon barrel and the result is a hot mess somehwere between a bourbon and a beer. Don’t get me wrong, I love both, but the best brewers are able to balance both a
    Without allowing the whiskey to overpower the beer. I also enjoy many wine barrel aged beers. Russian River, Jolly Pumpkin and Hill Farmsteaf are doing great things in this area.

    • John Hansell says:

      I hear ya! Too many times I have tasted whiskey-aged beers and there was FAR too much barrel influence. It just dominated the beer to the point of being unpleasant.

  3. Whisky Party says:

    I’m dying to try the Lost Abbey Angel’s Share Grand Cru! Does anyone know where they are selling it in New York City?

    I just started home brewing (5 gallon, partial grain batches). So far I’ve done a blonde ale and a coffee porter. I’m thinking about doing a bourbon barrel aged stout next. I’m trying to see how much it would cost to get a 5 gallon used barrel from Tuthilltown, which is only about an hour and a half drive from where I live.

    John, since you brought up the beer topic, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Brew Masters so far . . . ?

  4. Marc says:

    New Holland Brewing Company releases a High Gravity Series every year, and part of that is their Dragons Milk, which is a stout aged in Oak Barrels. Wonderful beer. Very creamy, roasted flavor. One of the better stouts aged in Oak I have had. The Goose Island Bourbon County Stout is a great beer as well, sometimes a little thick for me. Also the Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout is wonderful. Each one of these three beers is at least 10% ABV, so be prepared.

    • Whisky Party says:

      I’m a big fan of the Bourbon County Stout. A few bars around here (Brooklyn) carry it. I’ve heard tons of good things about Dragon’s Milk, but I’ve never seen it anywhere except on “Best of” lists . . .

      • Mike F. says:

        Dude, can’t believe you didn’t have any when you were out here: they’ve got it on tap at the local bar and it’s everything it’s cracked up to be.

  5. David says:

    Anyone try the Brew Dogs Paradox. I went to a tasting, Iand they had their stouts aged in various casks, Arran, Macallan, and Smoke Head. The Arran was the best, but in the Smoke Head one the peat really came through. It’s pricey though, $12.99/ 12oz bottle.

    • John Hansell says:

      I tasted them briefly at WhiskyFest San Francisco and thought they were across the board. Some I liked; others not so much. (I didn’t make a note of which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t like. But in all fairness, I had a good excuse. I had an event to oversee…)

  6. Ernest says:

    @whiskyparty – I don’t think Lost Abbey/Port Brewing is in New York. I live in CT but frequent NYC quite a bit and have never seen it on tap at any of the beer bars I frequent in Manhattan or Brooklyn. It is sold in MA but not CT. BTW, if you’re in Brooklyn stop into Belgium2Brooklyn5 taking place at Mugs Alehouse in Williamsburg this Saturday and Sunday. Great lineup of rare beers.

  7. Greg says:

    I’ve enjoyed a number of barrel aged ales recently with Founder’s Backwoods Bastard being my favorite. Aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for about 6.5 months, the result is a rich dark ale with flavors of coconut, dark chocolate and caramel. Delicious!

    • Marc says:

      Greg, that sounds wonderful! Founders is really picking up steam in the Midwest, and IMO the 2nd best brewery in Michigan behind the powerhouse that is Bells. The Bourbon County Stout they do is aged for a year in whiskey barrels (not sure what distillery they use) in a cave. I havent had the Backwoods Bastard yet, but have read about it on their website.

      • Greg says:

        Marc – The Backwoods is a seasonal release of about 1,000 cases. It’s difficult to find and when found, only in small amounts. I had to travel to 3 different stores over the course of a week to find four 4-packs.

  8. B.J. Reed says:

    My son is the beer guy – Will have to have him comment on this thread 🙂

  9. M Lange says:

    The Founders oak aged stouts (Kentucky Breakfast and Canadian Breakfast) are both fantastic. Another good one is New Holland Dragon’s Milk. Yummy stuff.

  10. Josh West says:

    John, have you ever tried the Harviestoun Ola Dubh beers (aged in Highland Park oak casks)? Delicious!

  11. […] beers in the country, and perhaps one of the best overall.  But that’s a discussion for another blog.  Go […]

  12. Murrell Kinkade says:

    I agree the Founders Backwoods Bastard is outstanding. I had one last nite. In my opinion it is aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. I say that becaue AlTech Brewing in Lexington, Ky has their Kentucky Bourbon Ale which is aged in Woodford barrels and it is is stunning in taste and mouth feel. Founders BB is damn near a clone. That said I dearly love Harviestoun Ola Dubh, but with the price is a luxuy not a regular.

  13. Kevin says:

    I got a bottle of the Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Stout – aged for 2 years in Pappy 23yr barrels. The question is do I drink it now or let it mature in the bottle…. hmmmmmmm

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