Beer in wooden barrels - An old invention
Even though barrel-aged beer is on everyone’s lips and most breweries have one in their repertoire, it is by no means a new invention. The fact that beer changes its taste when it is stored in a wooden barrel was probably discovered by the Dutch at the beginning of the 17th century. At the time of colonization, beer was to be shipped from the Netherlands to the USA. So what was more suitable for this purpose than wooden barrels? On the long sea journey all across the Atlantic, the barrels gave off their aroma to the beer. Depending on the type of wood and the duration of barrel aging, the beer changed its flavor.
This blog post will discuss how exactly this change in taste occurs and how brewers still make use of aging in wooden barrels today. In addition, the following is about which beer goes with which barrel and the proper way to handle barrels.
Three rules of barrel aging
With barrel aging, there are three points to consider in order to achieve a presentable result:
1. The right barrel
2. The right handling
3. The right beer
If you follow these three points, nothing stands in the way of a delicious barrel-aged beer. But before you get started, it doesn’t hurt to learn about the processes that take place when beer matures in a wooden barrel.
What happens in the barrel?
Wood is a natural product and wood breathes. Due to the many small pores in the wood, the wooden barrel is in constant air exchange with its environment. During the day, when it is a little warmer, the pores of the wood open and fill with beer. When it cools down again at night, the pores close and the beer is forced back into the barrel. During this process, the molecules of the beer mix with the macromolecules, including the aromas, of the wooden barrel. This is referred to as microoxygenation.
Find the right barrel
Different beers can be stored in a wide variety of barrels. However, new, or pre-used, American or French oak barrels are most commonly used. Which barrel is right depends on the style of beer you want in the barrel and personal preference. The combination of barrels and beers is almost endless. Especially with pre-used barrels, unique flavors can be brought into the beer.
Chocolate, a fruity sweetness and nuances of fresh fruit are what the port barrel gives to the beer. In addition, this barrel rounds out the beer with a light tannin structure.
All these flavors depend, of course, on the beer that matures in the barrels, as well as the environmental conditions. In any case, barrel aging can lead to exciting results that make each beer special.
The suitable beer to the barrel
When barrel aging, as already mentioned, it is important to remember to store a suitable beer. As a rule of thumb, the darker and heavier a beer is, the more suitable it is for barrel aging. The reason for this is that light, pale and hoppy beers such as Pilsner must be drunk quickly, otherwise they lose their flavor. However, if the beers are brewed stronger, such as an Imperial IPA, they are still suitable for barrel aging.
Preparation and storage of barrels
Finally, it is important to note that the filled barrel is properly watered. You can find a video about this on YouTube. Once the barrel is filled, it must be stored in a cold and dark room with high humidity. Now it is called were, until the beer has developed its flavors.
If you are now in the mood for a barrel-aged beer, here is my drinking recommendation:
Wood barrel-aged Eisbock from Faust – Detmolder Bourbon Chardonnay from Strate Brewery
If you have any questions about wooden barrels, we will be happy to help you.