Back in 1992, Goose Island’s brewmaster Greg Hall wanted to create a special beer in honor of his company’s 1,000th batch. After meeting Jim Beam’s legendary distiller Booker Noe, Hall came up with a truly unique concept—aging his stout in used oak bourbon casks. While barrel aging is standard for whiskey and wine, beer is usually drunk as soon as possible. And as any frat brother can tell you, it’s contained in sturdy metal kegs, which don’t let in any oxygen. Barrels, however, aren’t airtight and both the wood’s flavor and the traces of bourbon affect the taste and color of the beer. It took some time for Hall’s idea to catch on, but it’s become increasingly popular. Here are a few aged brews currently available. Don’t delay: these beers are limited and sell out quickly.
Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops and Dark Matter:
Brooklyn Brewery ages a number of beers in whiskey barrels, including the limited-edition Black Ops stout ($25 for a 25-ounce bottle). In early March, it’s releasing Dark Matter, which was aged in both bourbon and rye casks and will be available on tap in bars.
Full Sail Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Porter:
For the last dozen years, the Oregon-based Full Sail has been using bourbon barrels. This month the brewery released its hearty and malty porter ($12 for a 22-ounce bottle), which was aged for almost a year in a combination of barrels from Maker’s Mark, Four Roses and Stranahan’s.
Chicago-based Goose Island makes the dark, dense Bourbon County Stout ($14 for a 22-ounce bottle) from November through April. The beer is aged for 100 days in old Elijah Craig casks and develops notes of spice, vanilla and smoke.
He’Brew R.I.P.A. on Rye:
Most of the aged beers on the market are made using old bourbon casks. But a few brewers are also using rye whiskey barrels, including He’Brew. The brand’s double India pale ale is made with rye malt and is then aged for four months in barrels that previously held Sazerac 6-Year-Old Rye Whiskey. The beer will be available next month in a 22-ounce bottle ($11) and on tap in bars.
Scotch giant William Grant, which makes Glenfiddich and Balvenie, ages its whisky in former bourbon barrels. In 2002, to make an ale-finished whisky, the company filled old bourbon barrels with Scottish beer, let them sit for a month, dumped them out and filled them with whisky. Surprisingly the beer tasted great—full of oak and vanilla notes—and the brand Innis & Gunn was born. (A 750-ml bottle costs $10.)