They Brew it, I sell it, You Drink it... and so do I..

Saturday, 31 March 2012

In Defence of Wood

I see barrel aged beers getting quite a bit of schtick these days on other beer blogs and things like twitter (For example, Rob put up this post whilst I was actually writing this one) I think it's unfairly so too, because when people write about them, they all seem to get lumped in together under one same broad style, when most of the time people are only just talking about one or to beers.

I was really surprised to see a comment on one of Tandleman's posts the other day, from a respectable beer enthusiast I may add, which stated; "There is no such thing as a great barrel aged beer" which was a comment response to my promoting of Harveistoun's Ola Dubh being one of my 'greats'.

At first I was a little confused, as if to say 'are you really serious?' but then it made me a little sad because, while that may be one person's opinion about the style of beer, I think it's a very closed minded opinion. The comment seems to put forward the idea that said person will find all barrel aged beers terrible, and will dismiss them all before even trying them.
    I didn't even understand how someone could be so broadly dismissive when you've certainly not tried all the barrel aged beers the world has to offer. It's a bit like saying all Jazz music is horrible after listening to just one generic Greatest Jazz Hits Album.

Let's look at barrel aging though. It's purely a practice of aging beers in wooden vessels, which could have been previously used to age and store a multitude of beverages like; whisky, wine, rum and even other beers etc. If we take the premise that barrel aged beer is beer just aged on any form of wood (which it is) then I think some people drink, and champion, barrel aged beers more often (and in some cases, unknowingly) than one might think.

After all, many Belgian brewers have been using wood for centuries. Would you say that Rodenbach Grand Cru is a bad barrel aged beer? OK, it might not fit into our definition of 'barrel' when it's aged, but it's still matured on wood! (huge wooden vats to be precise) Barrel aging isn't just for the new young guns in brewing. It's not what's hip/cool/new in at the moment, it's been around since we learned to craft wood. Hell, even Green King barrel age quite a few of their beers, something which many people seem to forget.

I could go on for quite a bit about the virtues and my love of wood (I took a degree in furniture after all) but I thought now would be a better time than any to just get stuck into some of the stuff!

Fraoch 22 is a collaboration between Williams Bros and Auchentoshan distillery. It's a beer in a series of beers which sees Fraoch aged in a multitude of different casks for each individual release. This time this 11% beast has been aged in ex Sherry casks from Auchentoshan and was limited to 12,000 bottles. Some people out there will talk of chasing trends, and buying the 'special barrel aged beers' a brewery produces - just because we lap up anything special they make. Bollocks! I saw this beer, I thought it would be good and I bought it, because I wanted to. I wasn't under any conformity to buying it. I just really fancied it... and I wasn't wrong about it being good.

This light red amber, crystal clear beer  presents itself with aromas of pure rich caramelised tangerines and sweet honey. It smells slightly vegetal with hints of floral heather inviting you in. The beer is sweet and rich with an incredible smoothness which really lifts and compliments the vanilla, toffee, smoky oak and nutty honey flavour that you get from the whisky. Slightly toasted meringue and a touch of lime with just the smallest hint of smoky heather. It's a sort of, Barley Wine meets Rauch - which is re-donkulously delicious!

I love me some wood aged beers. I guess if you don't, then I just feel sorry for the fact that you don't have to palate for it. I would say stop acting with such a one tracked mind, but I'm guessing you've already laid down your rails. Barrel aged beers will always play a big part in my life, it could be because I really like whisky, it could be because I really like my wood. I'm not really bothered - I just really like the stuff. Anyway, here's my top five favourites (so far):

1 - Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
2 - Harveistoun Ola Dubh
3 - Orkney Dark Island Reserve
4 - Firestone Parabola
5 - This beast - Fraoch 22 aged on Auchentoshan beastly casks.

11 comments:

  1. Dismissing something as you've had a few bad ones while kind of understandable is short sighted. I've had a few bad whskies, curries and hell - girlfriends - I'm glad I persevered

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    1. I've had my fair share of bad whiskies too, it makes me appreciate the good ones so much more.

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  2. Out of those top five up to now I have only tried the Dubh but am intrigued to try the other four. In fact Im sure I have a bottle of the Orkney DI Reserve somewhere.

    What puts me off often with the oak aged beers is the combination of oak and bitterness in abundance. Stuff like Innis & Gunn has a balancing sweetness.

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    1. That's a perfectly acceptable flavour profile to dislike if it's not to your tastes Rob, but don't tar them all with the same oaky bitter brush. As you say, you enjoy the Innis and Gunn beers, I'm betting there's quite a few more out there you'd enjoy as well - time to crack open the DIR me thinks...

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  3. With you all the way on this one Ghostie. Love the Orkney Dark Island Reserve and I think my list would have to include the three Thornbridge St Petersburg whisky cask variants (notably the Islay version), and more than a few beers from De Molen and Emmelisse. I know Hawkshead have some of their imperial stout currently matirung in whisky casks and that shou,d be superb (even it's only half as good as their whisky cask variant of Brodies Prime). Yup - I'm definitely a fan of the concept (I don't think you can call it a style, can you?). Apart ftom Innis & Gunn though - for some reason I've not really taken to these. Perhaps I need to give them another go.

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    1. Was a big fan of the Thornbridge beers, and I'm very intrigued by the Hawkshead one, sounds great! I think if you can call it a style, then it's an incredibly broad one, but everyone seems to talk about barrel aged beers as one big style anyway.

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  4. I'd say that the problem is more that it's a much abused term. A short period of time in a very old (by which I mean often used) barrel will have no effect - some barrels are in effect as inert as stainless steel. Conversely a long period of time in a newer (eg.bourbon - by law only allowed to be used once) barrel will have a dramatic effect on the contents.

    So until you know the details it can be easy to be dismissive - it can (and I'm sure is) used as a sales gimmick. 'Barrel aged' without elaboration doesn't mean anything!

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    1. It is easily something which is used as a gimmick, we see it all the time, but people with the real knowledge about the subject can produce really good beers. Barrel aging is a very complex and vast subject with many influencing factors which can add or take away from the finished product. Making something with the wood which is actually decent is something I think takes a real skill.

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    2. Agree entirely, It wasn't meant to be a derogatory comment on the experimentation and people who actually do it properly - I think it's brilliant!

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  5. Wood ROCKS! seriously though, agree with the previous comment - when done badly, it can be a useless term. When I see you next, remind me of this post. I've got a good example.

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    1. Oh, I've had some bad ones, some interesting but not great ones, and a good share of great ones. I do think sometimes there is a bit of bandwagon jumping without any research or pre-thought, which can result in a overwhelming and poor beer, and I think I may know who you could be talking about. If people thought a little more about what went with what, looked into the qualities of each individual barrel as it came to them before just slapping any old strong beer in, and hoping for a decent outcome, we might not be talking of all the bad ones we've had. I'm just glad I've had more good ones than bad.

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