Home' Hospitality Business : HB FEB 2016 Contents 62 | Februar y 2016 | Hospitality BUSINESS
BEER IN FOCUS
Good beers come
to those who wait
Heralding a return to traditional practices, beer writer John Oszajca talks
barrel aging and its importance to the future of brewing.
eer is not just the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic
beverage; it’s art. The average craft brewer typically draws
from their inner well of creativity and combines flavours,
ideas, and traditions in an effort to make a statement and hit a
specific mark. It’s clear that beer has evolved to be viewed as an artisan
product; often more akin to a fine wine then its fizzy yellow forbearers.
But perhaps no other aspect of beer invites more compar isons to
wine than the increasingly popular act of aging beer in oak bar rels. It’s
safe to say that histor ically nearly all beer was aged in wood bar rels of
one sort or another. Stainless steel is a relatively moder n invention, and
so much like wine, wood was the vessel of choice when it came to the
fer mentation, storage, and transport of beer.
However, with the industrial revolution came stainless steel and soon
brewer ies were trading in their wooden bar rels for the convenience
and consistency of the shiny metal tanks of which we are all so familiar.
While there have been a few notable holdouts, such as many of
Belgium’s sour beer producers (Cantillon and Rodenbach to name a
few), and even the world famous Pilsner Urquel brewery which used
pitch-lined oak casks until fairly recently, for the most part, wood, and
it’s flavour contribution to beer, had become a thing of the past.
That is of course until the craft beer movement began to take shape
in the nineteen nineties and brewers started exper imenting with both
new and old ingredients and brewing processes in an effort to always be
offer ing the adventurous palate of the craft beer drinker something new
With wood being such a key flavour contributor to both spirits and
wine, each barrel has a fairly limited lifespan. Eventually, too much of the
oak and char flavour is stripped from the wood and the barrel is promptly
turned into a planter, overpriced man-cave furniture, or (lucky for us) is
acquired by a craft brewer who – looking for a smaller contribution from
the oak – can squeeze a few more years of life from said barrel.
Most would agree that the craft beer world saw a re-emergence
of wood aged beers in the for m of the still very popular bourbon
bar rel-aged imper ial stout. Though more recently the popular ity of
wood aged beers has exploded due to the increasing interest in sour
and “funky” beers. In a sour beer the wood is more than just a flavour
component, it’s a home for the many organisms that are key to the
beer’s flavour profile.
To get an insider’s perspective on the popular ity and process behind
one of the craft beer world’s hottest trends, I could think of no one
better to speak with than Søren Eriksen of 8 Wired Brewing Company;
home to what is said to be the brewing industries largest bar rel
program in the souther n hemisphere.
We began our conversation with the obvious question: Why age beer
in wood bar rels?
“There are certain styles of beers that are more or less required to be aged
in wood, in order to be what they are supposed to be”, said the Warkworth
brewer.The wood imparts flavours and creates a certain environment for
bacter ia, wild yeast and other microbes to grow and be happy.”
Søren explained, “If you want to make a traditional style sour beer
for example, [a style often aged for several years before being sold],
wood is usually the best medium for that.The other reason to do it is
that it’s much cheaper to age the beers [for long per iods of time] in a
second hand wine bar rel than to do it in expensive stainless steel tanks.
And the results should be different in the end.”
I asked Søren what kind of flavour contr ibution the oak bar rel
lends to the beer: “The wood itself imparts a lot of vanilla tones,” he
explained. “If you try a glass of bourbon, a lot of the flavours that you
get in there are fully wood der ived.Those kind of sweet vanilla, toasted,
coconutty kind of flavours are what you would get from the wood.”
Erickson emphasized the fact that the bar rels they (and other
brewer ies) use are typically acquired late in their lifespans. “Usually
Links Archive HB DEC 2015 HB MAR 2016 Navigation Previous Page Next Page