Consider this your first homework assignment of the school year.
A cool breeze slips in through an open window, cooling your wrists or ankles. Or maybe you’ve noticed a clarity to the morning light that was missing during the humid bake of summer. Fall hasn’t arrived quite yet, but its advance guard is out.
To commemorate the passing of one season and the advent of another, many craft breweries are releasing new beers—including more than a few exceptional barrel-aged offerings. Barrel-aged beer is a brewing trend that shows no signs of slowing. And it’s easy to see (and taste) why brewers and beer-drinkers alike are still enthusiastic about beer aged in wood. Done well—or even done poorly—barrel aging imparts new layers of complexity to a beer’s aroma and flavor.
While many brewers are doing the obvious—taking a well-loved porter or other dark beer and letting it mellow for a few months in old whiskey barrels—others are expanding the style’s horizons by starting with lighter or less-obvious beer bases and marrying them to unconventional casks. For example, some brewers have coupled disused wine barrels—ones that once held Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc—with beer styles ranging from lagers to farmhouse ales. Whether predictable or surprising, the results can be fantastic.
If you’re looking for the best from the latest barrel-aged crop, look no further. Here are 15 of the best new offerings, many of which are limited release—and likely to be gone by the time the leaves start to fall.
Captain of the Coast by Pelican Brewing Co.
Due to popular demand, Oregon-based Pelican is bringing back their award-winning Scotch ale aged in whiskey barrels. Past iterations of this copper brown ale combined a pleasant, medium-bodied mouthfeel with plenty of vanilla and oak flavors and aromas. Assuming you trust its makers, the latest batch of Captain (available in September) will have added chocolate, spice, and cherry notes.
Curmudgeon’s Better Half by Founders Brewing Co.
You could make a case that Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Founders helped ignite the current barrel-aged firestorm with its acclaimed KBS—a stout aged in bourbon barrels and first released back in 2003. The award-winning brewery continues to impress with Curmudgeon’s Better Half, a 12.7% ABV old ale aged in oak barrels that previously held maple syrup. Redolent of molasses, bourbon, and dark fruits, this is a bewitching brew.
Soul Conduit by Jester King Brewery
Austin-based Jester King has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to barrel aging. And one of its latest offerings demonstrates the brewery’s creativity and willingness to take risks. Soul Conduit combines a farmhouse beer with Old Tom gin barrels—ones that were previously used to age another limited-release beer. The product of that aging is then refermented with thyme and limes. The bitter, smoky result is redolent of botanicals. Like most of the brewery’s concoctions, it’s a stunner.
French Lager by Banded Oak Brewing Co.
As its name implies, Denver-based Banded Oak is focused on barrel aging, and many of its offerings employ former wine casks acquired from friends in the Napa Valley. The brewery’s new French Lager combines bière de Mars—a dry ale from the Alsace region of France that resembles some Belgian saisons—with Pinot Noir barrels. It’s nuanced and nicely boozy, a beer to sip slowly and consider.
Mischief Managed Peach by Monday Night Brewing
Atlanta’s Monday Night scored a hit with the first barrel-aged beer in its “Mischief Managed” series, which was a Berliner Weiss aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels alongside raspberries. Not willing to mess (too much) with a good thing, they stuck with the Sauv Blank barrels and Berliner Weiss base, but this time tossed in a load of peaches. The result is a limited-release brew that’s wonderfully dry and tart—and sure to sell out quickly.
Dark & Stormy by Firestone Walker
Paso Robles, California’s Firestone Walker knocked it out of the park with last year’s limited-release Dark & Stormy—a brew aged in rum barrels and later blended with “hand zested” lime and ginger. To everyone’s relief, they brought Dark & Stormy back this year. This is a light-bodied beer with refreshing but restrained lime and ginger notes—perfect for lazy late-summer afternoons or football Sundays.
Wood Werks No. 3 by Great Divide Brewing Co.
After more than 13 months spent marinating in 10-year rye whiskey barrels, this brown ale from Denver’s Great Divide packs some fireworks. Satisfyingly spicy and bready, this is a brew to stick in your cellar for those coming nights when the temperature plummets but you’re reluctant to turn on the heat. Pull on a cozy sweater and take a few sips of this 12.6% ABV brew, and you’ll be plenty warm.
Barrel-Aged Saison by Schlafly Beer
In a city best known for its macro beers—namely Budweiser—Schlafly is one of a handful of outstanding craft breweries that are changing the beer-drinking world’s perception of St. Louis. Barrel-Aged Saison is made using white oak Sauvignon Blanc barrels sourced from California and France. The product is a smooth, dry, tart and nicely spiced beer that, at 7.5% ABV, has just the right amount of boozy heat.
Cinnamon Vanilla Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout by Alesmith Brewing Co.
The brewers at San Diego’s Alesmith have had a lot of fun playing around with different barrel-aged variations of their Speedway Stout. Their latest creation shows just how much they’ve learned. Made with a combination of bourbon barrel-aged stouts—including one aged in casks that previously held cinnamon and vanilla extracts—this beer is expertly spiced and wonderfully scrumptious. Like drinking a piece of cake—in the best way possible.
Code Switch by Revolution Brewing
While this blend of barrel-aged beers won’t be released until mid-October, we’ve tasted enough from Chicago-based Revolution’s “Deep Wood” series to expect great things from Code Switch. Made in collaboration with Indiana’s Sun King Brewery, Code Switch is aged in a (some would say unholy) mixture of Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon barrels before enduring a finishing wallop of unfermented blackberries.
Grisette About It! By Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Delaware-based Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA is one of the most beloved craft beers in America. And late this summer, Dogfish will release a large-format bottling of their 120 Minute IPA aged for seven months in bourbon barrels. While we’re looking forward to it, we’re arguably more excited to try Grisette About It!, a beer brewed with heirloom oats and an ancient variety of wheat that’s aged in Chardonnay barrels.
White Wine Barrel-Aged Sour Wench by Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Starting with their excellent Sour Wench blackberry ale, the brewers at San Diego’s Ballast Point added the brew to used Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc barrels. The result is a surprisingly creamy, woody and fruit-laced beer that’s at once satisfying and refreshing.
Bakery by The Bruery
Craft purists may throw shade on the predictable elements—bourbon barrels, imperial stout—and the fact that coconut and vanilla flavors are added (rather than naturally imparted via barrel aging). But you really can’t knock the final product. Orange County’s The Bruery has crafted a smooth, balanced beer that manages to hide its 13% ABV—and one that’s available in pint-size cans.
Dragon’s Milk Reserve by New Holland Brewing Co.
Michigan’s New Holland Brewing first produced their well-loved, bourbon barrel-aged Dragon’s Milk stout 17 years ago. To celebrate some recent updates to the beer’s packaging, New Holland is set to release a banana coconut variation of their famous brew. Considering the fan acclaim surrounding the brewery’s other one-off Dragon’s Milk beers, we’re betting this will be a winner as well.
Bishop’s Barrel No. 21 by Saint Arnold Brewing Co.
This Belgian quad from Houston-based Saint Arnold was aged for more than a year in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels, which alone should be enough info to make your mouth water. A harmonious melding of wizened fruits and toasted oak, this is a delicious brew that hides its high alcohol content (12.5%) dangerously well.