25 Exceptional Barrel-Aged Craft Beers
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.
Lolita by Goose Island Beer Co.
Another one from Chicago’s Goose Island, this Belgian ale is aged at least eight months alongside fresh raspberries in used wine barrels. You get big hits of the raspberry when you take a sniff. Sip, and you’ll also notice hints of oak and cherry. It’s surprisingly light-bodied and crisp.
25 Exceptional Barrel-Aged Craft Beers
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Dark Star by Fremont Brewing
Made with a blend of oatmeal stouts aged for between eight and 18 months in Kentucky bourbon barrels, this brew from Seattle’s Fremont is a rich, roasty, precisely balanced cocktail of chocolate and vanilla and leather. Like many of the beers on this list, you’ll want to let it warm up a bit to allow its full complement of aromas and flavors emerge.
The Abyss by Deschutes Brewery
Oregon-based Deschutes ages this imperial stout in a mixture of bourbon, new Oregon oak, and red wine barrels. While similar formulas litter this list, the Abyss has some firewood and burnt-sugar notes—and a lot else—that help it to stand out from the crowd.
Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist by Epic Brewing Co.
The brewers at Salt Lake City’s Epic take barrel-aging to new levels with this A-plus beer. They start by aging coconut and Colombian coffee in oak, which they later combine with batches of imperial stout that have been aged in both rum and whiskey barrels. While the result could be a discordant mess, their Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist is a woody, spicy beauty.
High West Barrel-Aged Victory at Sea by Ballast Point Brewery
Black Ops by Brooklyn Brewery
This Brooklyn brew is aged in bourbon barrels and “re-fermented” with champagne yeast. That re-fermentation seems to lend it a dry, champagne-like aftertaste that nicely complements the beer’s fruit-forward, mildly sweet and boozy characteristics. It’s an interesting, delicious take on a barrel-aged imperial.
Black Note by Bell’s Brewery
The award-winning brewers at Michigan-based Bell’s take their already exceptional Expedition and Double Cream stouts, age both in bourbon barrels, and then combine them for a smooth, malty, espresso-laced triumph. Black Note is a bucket-list beer.
Collaboration 7 by Boulevard Brewing Co.
Made in collaboration with Georgia’s Creature Comforts and Arizona Wilderness Brewing, this oak-aged lager from Kansas City, Missouri’s Boulevard is a winner. At 6 percent ABV, this pale lager is light and bursting with flavors of green grapes, white wine, citrus, and earth. It’s not technically barrel-aged; instead, its aged in tanks packed with French-oak barrel staves. Yes, that’s cheating. But this beer gets extra credit for its distinctiveness.
Grand Cru by Alesmith Brewing Co.
Several of San Diego-based Alesmith’s barrel-aged beers could have made this list. But this Belgian-style ale—aged in American and French oak red wine barrels—is a delicious change of pace from many of the bourbon-focused barrel brews on the market. An amber-hued beer, Grand Cru is redolent of chocolate cake and Cabernet and caramel, while flavors of spice, chocolate, raisins, and cherries come through on your tongue.
Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale by Central Waters Brewing Co.
This Cherrywood-smoked Scotch ale is aged in barrels that previously mothered 12-year-old bourbon. The nutty, chocolate-and-caramel goodness of the bourbon barrel comes through, along with a bit of light smoke and sweetness. This is a scrumptious and decadent beer.
Bourbon Barrel Black Maple by Jackie O’s Brewery
This imperial porter is aged along with maple syrup. The brewers at Ohio-based Jackie O’s describe this brew as having “a rich chocolate backbone,” and they’re shooting you straight. But there’s a ton going on here. Let it warm up a bit, and the maple and brown sugar flavors emerge.
Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy by Oskar Blues Brewery
At 12.9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), it’s downright shocking how smooth and drinkable this imperial stout is—for better or worse. (Mostly for better.) Aged in bourbon barrels, it’s bursting with vanilla and mocha and spice. Colorado-based Oskar Blues is best known for their Dale’s Pale Ale, but Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy shows off their range and skill.
Barrel-Aged Yeti by Great Divide Brewing Co.
Colorado’s Great Divide makes an excellent lineup of Yeti imperial stouts. But their barrel-aged Yeti is top dog. (Or Sasquatch. Whatever.) Aged for at least a year in whiskey barrels, this bad boy has the roasted, charred, oaky vanilla aromas and flavors you’d expect, along with a great and unexpected hit of peppery hop bitterness.
Assassin by Toppling Goliath Brewing Co.
This imperial stout from Iowa’s Toppling Goliath spends at least a year—sometimes two—aging in oak barrels. Dried fruit, coffee, and bourbon aromas drift out of the glass, and are joined by chocolate and red wine berries when you take a sip. Assassin is rich and smooth and, as its name implies, lethally drinkable.
Black Tuesday by The Bruery
This massive imperial stout from Orange County’s The Bruery clocks in at 19.5 percent ABV, and its sweet and boozy in all the right ways. If you can find a bottle of this that has been properly stored for a few years, you’re in for a real treat. But enjoyed fresh and on the colder side—and preferably shared with a friend or two—this beer is memorable.
Parabola by Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Paso Robles, California-based Firestone Walker was a craft pioneer in barrel aging, and their experience shows in this award-winning imperial oatmeal stout. Aged for a full year in former Heaven Hills Bourbon barrels, Parabola features plenty of chocolate and dark cherry. But trying to break down all its aromas and flavors is a fool’s errand. There’s just too much going on here.
Bourbon County Brand Stout by Goose Island Beer Co.
The brewers at Chicago’s Goose Island describe this beer as “dark and dense as a black hole,” and they’re not far off. It features plenty of bourbon notes on the nose and palate. But there are also perfectly melded chocolate and coffee and nut and coconut elements swirling around in this balanced and complex beer. It’s a wonder.
Supplication by Russian River Brewing Company
Yes, this is the second offering on this list from Northern California’s Russian River Brewing. But their barrel program is one of the most acclaimed in the country, and we could probably add two or three more of their brews to this list. Supplication is a brown ale aged with sour cherries and yeast in Pinot Noir barrels from Sonoma County. The complexity in this beer is off the charts, and it features a fizzy kick of carbonation.
CBS by Founders Brewing Co.
The master brewers at Michigan-based Founders say they “stumbled onto” some bourbon barrels that had been used to store maple syrup. We could probably stop writing here; you’re sold. But if you need more, rest assured this imperial stout’s combination of maple, oak, and coffee is delectable.
Stickee Monkee by Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Firestone Walker boasts one of the best barrel-aging programs among craft brewers, so it’s no surprise two of its beers make this list. Aged in bourbon barrels alongside Turbinado brown sugar, this Belgian-style quad is chewy, sweet and rich in the best ways possible.
Barrel-Aged Abraxas by Perennial Artisan Ales
Aged in rye barrels along with cocoa nibs, ancho chilies, cinnamon, and vanilla beans, this imperial stout from St. Louis-based Perennial is a peppery, spicy mélange of flavor and heat. It features plenty of roasty chocolate and vanilla to rounds out its spice. It’s intoxicating, in more ways than one.
Apple Brandy Noir by Prairie Artisan Ales
Tulsa-based Prairie doesn’t have the name recognition of some of the country’s most acclaimed craft breweries. But if they keep making beers like their Apple Brandy Noir, that’s going to change. This imperial stout, aged in apple brandy barrels, balances its dark and dense stout flavors of chocolate and mocha with bright, sweet apple notes.
Beatification by Russian River Brewing
Aged and allowed to ferment naturally in oak wine barrels, this blonde sour from California-based Russian River is exceptional. Tart and funky, a sniff brings aromas of citrus and oak that lands crisp and clean on your tongue.
Aurelian Lure by Jester King Brewery
This sour beer is aged in oak with California apricots, which lend it a fruitiness that, while subtle, lasts and lasts. Texas-based Jester King makes a number of great oak-aged beers. If you spot any of them, know they’re worth your time.
Double Barrel Hunahpu’s by Cigar City Brewing Co.
Every year on the second Saturday in March, Tampa’s Cigar City holds “Hunahpu’s Day”—an annual release party for their signature imperial stout. The event has grown so big that it’s now held at Raymond James Stadium, where the NFL’s Buccaneers play their home games. While Hunahpu’s is a world-class beer on its own, aging it in a mixture of rum and apple brandy barrels adds several new layers of depth and nuance. If you ever spot Double Barrel Hunahpu’s, don’t hesitate. Just buy it.