CHARRED WOOD, BIG FLAVOR: THE GLBC BARREL AGING PROGRAM

With Barrel Aged Christmas Ale set to be released in 22oz bottles on November 26th, we sat down with GLBC Production Supervisor Justin Michalovic to find out more about the newly expanded Great Lakes Brewing Co. barrel aging program.

How do you manage the GLBC barrel aging program?

My job is to choose the barrels, fill the barrels, and test the brew as it ages. I’ll check the beer about once month and see how everything is going. Aroma, appearance, PH levels, and taste are all tested each time.

Taste testing barrel aged beers! That must be a pretty sweet perk to your job.

It’s not a bad gig.

What kind of barrels does GLBC use?

We’re experimenting aging beers with multiple kinds of barrels, but we primarily use Kentucky bourbon barrels that we’ve sourced from Louisville, Kentucky. I love bourbon, so I make sure whatever type of barrel we use was filled with bourbon worth drinking.

What is the process of barrel aging?

Once we have the barrels selected, I fill the barrels and let them age in a room set at a constant temperature of 38° Fahrenheit. I check the beers every month and take notes on how they’re doing. We let the beer age as long as it takes to achieve the flavors we’re looking for. Usually, the beer is aged anywhere from six to nine months.

Why barrel age a beer?

Because it’s awesome! Barrel aging can really kick up the flavor profile and make it a more dynamic beer.

How much more dynamic? When it comes to taste, GLBC brewer Luke Purcell has the answers.

What sort of flavors can I expect from a barrel aged beer?

It really depends on the beer and the barrel being used. While we are currently experimenting with different types of barrels, we primarily use bourbon barrels. Obviously, there is some residual bourbon in these barrels and some of those flavors are picked up by the beer. The charred oak itself introduces quite a few flavors into the base beer, including vanilla, coconut, and a nice toasty profile. Tannins from the oak can be picked up by the beer, causing an astringent mouthfeel. This can be a welcome addition, especially in a sweet beer like Rackhouse Ale. Think of it as adding balance. One thing to keep in mind is that some of the flavor of the beer will come from the natural aging and oxidation that occurs in the barrel. This makes it important to choose a beer that is known to age well outside of the barrel. 

Should I enjoy my barrel aged beer now or let it age?

This is a personal preference. Most barrel aged beers will be styles that will age well even if not in a barrel, so aging longer seems to make sense. Talking to the brewer is recommended, as they have most likely had the opportunity to taste the beer at different stages of aging. I would also check with the brewer to find out how long it has been out of the barrel. It is my personal opinion that most barrel aged beers are pretty harsh when they are first out of the barrel and mellow out significantly over time. I would say most of them need at least 3 months out of the barrel before one can expect to start tasting a more cohesive flavor with less harshness.

How long should I age my barrel aged brew?

That’ll be up to you. We have tasted Barrel Aged Blackout Stout that has been in the bottle from 1 year to 8 years and everything in between.  In my personal opinion, 1-2 years is a safe bet for peak flavor.

 

Bottles of Barrel Aged Christmas will be available in our gift shop November 26th at 10:00 AM. 

THE RELEASE:
- Date: Saturday, November 26th, 2016
- Time: Gift shop opens at 10:00AM. Bar opens at 10:00AM. Kitchen opens at 11:00AM
- Bottle cost: $17.95
- Bottle limit: One case per person (12 bottles per case)
- No holds or reservations
Details subject to change without notice.

More info on the Barrel Aged Christmas Ale release here.