The word “trend” doesn’t fully capture the craft beer industry’s current enthusiasm for barrel aging. A process that was once niche has become not just mainstream, but ubiquitous.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say just about every brewery in America has a barrel program now,” says Matt Simpson, an Atlanta-based certified beer judge, educator, and owner of the Beer Sommelier craft-brewing consultancy. “It’s everywhere, and I think it’s going to continue to grow.”
Of course, many wines and dark spirits have long been aged in wood barrels—usually oak—in order to impart the stored liquid with added flavor and complexity. Some European beer styles, namely Belgian lambics, are also traditionally barrel-fermented. So it makes sense that craft brewers—a group known for innovation and experimentation—would dabble with barrel-aging techniques. But it’s tough to overstate just how quickly barrel aging has blown up.
From imperial stouts to lagers, almost every beer style on Earth is now being aged in wood. And just as bourbon barrel aging has caught on among winemakers, many craft brewers are using old whiskey barrels (and rum barrels and tequila barrels and wine barrels) to add layers of nuance to their brews. They’re also experimenting with different woods, aging durations, and barrel additions like fruit and spice. All of this has helped elevate the world of beer to new and exciting heights.
Your local beer store is likely bursting with excellent barrel-aged options. While we could have expanded this list to 100 with little-to-no drop in quality, the 24 that follow are all exceptional.