“Selecting a barrel is as much a part of the brewing process as hop selection, malt selection, or yeast,” says our Brewmaster, Jason Perkins. “It’s another opportunity to add unique flavors.”
Which means that the barrel itself should be thought of as another ingredient in the brew, more than just a vessel.
Charred oak staves produce entirely different flavors than non-charred oak.
When it comes to a beer’s taste, barrels can impart so much more flavor than simply “barrel.” Charred staves can produce notes of smoke and spice. Whatever wine or spirit the barrel previously held influences flavor (think, an aquavit barrel versus a rum barrel). And then there’s vanillin, a compound in the wood of oak barrels that gives the beer distinct vanilla notes.
Age also affects different beers differently. Meaning, the longer a beer sits in a barrel, the more its flavor will evolve in certain, specific ways. Oxygen ingress—small amounts of oxygen getting through the wood of the barrel—is one part of barrel aging that can change a beer’s flavor. In the same type of barrel, oxygen might allow microbes to produce acidity or aromatic compounds in one beer, while causing completely different oxidative flavor reactions in another. We’ve found that, for Curieux, six-to-eight weeks in the barrels is the right amount of time to extract the flavor notes we want—candied sugar/sugar cookie aromas—and none that we don’t.
There’s not much prettier than that dark golden hue.
As far as flavor goes, we hope that we’ve given you a taste for how huge a factor the barrel plays in the finished beer. Next post, we’ll be talking about how we, in particular, get our barrels for Curieux, our most popular barrel-aged offering.