When it comes to craft beer these days, “roll out the barrels” has a whole new meaning.
Aging beer in barrels that previously held wine, whiskey or other spirits to add complex flavors is one of the hottest trends in the industry, and local brewers are on board.
No one has embraced the idea more than Twelve String’s Terry Hackler, who typically has a wood-aged offering available at his Spokane Valley taproom. As part of a brewery expansion next month, Hackler is adding another six taps, most of which will be devoted to barrel-aged beers.
“We go through a keg a week of any barrel-aged stuff we put on,” he says. “I think people like it because it’s something different.”
Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery is credited with kicking off the craze in 1992 with its Bourbon County Stout, conditioned in Jim Beam barrels.
As it ages, beer picks up vanilla, caramel and oak notes from the wood, as well as flavors from the barrel’s former contents. It can age anywhere from weeks to months to years, depending on the type of beer and the brewer’s desired result.
After starting with his Drop D Stout aged with blackberries in a cabernet franc barrel, Hackler has done more stout in syrah barrels along with his Don’t Fret Porter, C#7#5 India pale ale and Volume 1 Anniversary imperial IPA in whiskey barrels.
“It really mellowed out to where my wife, who can’t stand IPAs, will drink it,” he says of the hoppy C#.
His latest project is putting some of his lighter Spring Reverb pale ale into a less pungent, well-used whiskey barrel, where it likely won’t need to stay long.
Down the road, Hackler plans to brew beers specifically intended for barrel-aging. He talks about a porter aged with espresso and pomegranate, an imperial red in rum barrels and maybe something in a tequila barrel, if he can snag one.
“It’s fun to experiment with different things,” he says. “A lot of it is making it up as you go along.”
At No-Li Brewhouse, Mark Irvin has been barrel-aging beers in Dry Fly barrels since the distillery opened in 2007.
His Crystal Bitter, Chocolate Dunkel, Winter Ale and, most recently, Stellar Stout all have received the treatment. He currently has some Jet Star imperial IPA aging in a Dry Fly triticale whiskey barrel.
“I’ve never done it with a hoppier beer before,” Irvin says. He expects it to sit for three months, like the stout, which he says turned out “just perfect.”
He plans to beef up his barrel-aging program – the powerful Wrecking Ball imperial stout is another likely candidate – and eventually bottle some of the results.
Iron Goat is releasing its first barrel-aged beers for its first anniversary party June 1: Goatnik Russian imperial stout aged in Dry Fly wheat whiskey barrels, and Cap’n Kidd Scotch ale aged in Woodinville Whiskey bourbon barrels.
The Goatnik has been barreled since December, but its whiskey character still is subtle. “I really like the way it’s rounded out,” says co-brewer/owner Greg Brandt.
Belgian-style Selkirk Abbey in Post Falls also plans to begin barrel-aging when it expands production space next month. “I’d love to do our saison in chardonnay barrels,” says co-owner Jeff Whitman.
Both Iron Goat and Budge Brothers welcome warmer weather with lower-octane “session” IPAs, around 5 percent alcohol by volume.
The single-hop Summer Session IPA from Budge (which will celebrate its second anniversary May 31) showcases Cascade, which flaunts its floral/spicy side before the familiar grapefruit flavor arrives as it warms.
Iron Goat’s smooth Lawnmower ISA (India session ale) gets a boost from Belgian aromatic malt and is dry-hopped with Mosaic, a newer hybrid with an array of aromas ranging from earthy to tropical fruit.
No-Li uses the hop exclusively in its new seasonal Mosaic pale ale, a slightly lighter-bodied variation on the brewery’s former Solar Winds.
Selkirk Abbey’s Chapel is made from the same recipe as the brewery’s regular wheat beer, spiced with orange peel and coriander. But it’s fermented with a Belgian yeast that adds fullness and flavor – “profoundly different,” in Whitman’s words.
Look for a crisp German-style kolsch – a sort of cross between ale and lager – at Trickster’s in Coeur d’Alene around month’s end, while Spokane’s River City has a big imperial IPA in the tank awaiting a July release.
• Post Street Ale House is dedicating all 26 of its taps to local beers through May 19 in honor of American Craft Beer Week. Also look for menu specials using house beers at No-Li, and events at Enoteca in Post Falls including tastings with Mad River today, Wallace Brewing on Monday and Odell on Thursday (info: www.corkjoy.com).
• Beer from MickDuff’s in Sandpoint could be headed to Spokane and Coeur d’Alene this summer after the brewery takes over the current Pend d’Oreille Winery space in June. Seating at the existing brewpub will increase, and a smaller system will produce a wider range of seasonals.
• It looks like Spokane’s South Hill will be getting its first brewery, in the South Perry District, an increasingly cultivated beer area anchored by the newly expanded Lantern Tap House. The Perry Street Brewing Company, a project of former Big Sky brewer Ben Lukes, could open as soon as this fall.
• Zythum Brewing has finally found a home, in the former hardware store in Fairfield. Plans call for launching a line of snack foods, including granola, using spent brewing grains while the brewery is built and licensed.
• Iron Goat, No-Li and Twelve String will represent Spokane at the annual Washington Brewers Festival, June 14-16 at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Wash.
Also in the lineup are Pullman’s Paradise Creek, Clarkston’s Riverport, Waitsburg’s Laht Neppur and the region’s new buzz brewery: Bale Breaker, from a Yakima hop-farming family. For details, see www.washingtonbeer.com.