The Art and Science of Barrel-Aged Beer

The Art and Science of Barrel-Aged Beer

Education, Ingredients, Beer 101


Barrel-aged beer, or beer aged in wine and spirits barrels, often develops unique, complex flavor profiles that are not found in beer stored in stainless steel. Though you might not think it, we consider these barrels as ingredients. We respect what was aged in the barrel before it comes into our hands, and hope that some of those flavors—combined with the flavors of the wood itself—are imparted into the beer.

The unique characteristics that distinguish one barrel-aged beer from another are specific to the nuances of the barrel itself. And so, we design our beer to best suit the barrel we are planning to use. Many of our sours are aged in wine barrels, while our stouts are often aged in whiskey barrels. But one thing that all of our barrels have in common is that they are made of oak.


barrelWhile many types of wooden barrels can be used for aging beer, oak is our go-to. Though it is watertight, it is also porous, and contains an array of flavors that can be extracted into beer—classically vanillin and tannins. These help to balance the beer and promote head retention.

Because oak is permeable, micro-oxygenation occurs with all oak barrels and has a function in both “clean” and sour beers. Micro-oxygenation slowly oxidizes “clean” beer, and promotes long-term fermentation in our mixed culture projects (take Lief and Madeline, for example).


We take many things into consideration when selecting barrels for use, such as:

american oak vs french oak

American oak grows with a wide grain, allowing the beer and barrel to interact more during the aging process. French oak, on the other hand, grows with a tight grain so the flavors imparted by the barrel are a bit more subtle.

charred barrel vs toasted barrel

Spirit barrels are charred inside, often imparting a smoky flavor, while wine barrels are toasted, adding smoother notes of vanilla and caramel.

spirit barrel vs wine barrel

Unlike spirit barrels, whose alcohol content kills off bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus and wild yeast like Brettanomyces, emptied wine barrels are often a breeding ground for them—which is essential in the creation of our sour beers.

For this year’s Log Cabin release, we made three variants of the same imperial stout, each aged in a different type of bourbon barrel. Not all bourbons are the same, nor are all bourbon barrels the same. Aside from recipe differences, distilleries will use their own blend of oak as well as their own level of charring. This leads to distinct differences in the flavor profiles that we can derive from the used wood. As a result, the subtleties of each bourbon barrel used to age the Log Cabin variants translated into complex and pronounced differences between them.


barrel-aged beer



There are many nuances to barrel-aged beer, and each is considered when bringing you the best, most interesting beers. With an aim to deliver you ever-improving beers of the highest quality, we are constantly innovating our recipes, and testing new barrels and methods for aging. We get excited by tasting the unique contributions of a barrel to its beer, be it a sour or a stout. And we love to share the art and science behind our craft with you, almost as much as sharing the beer itself.

Tagged with: , , , , ,