On my way home from the Cheers Beverage Conference in New Orleans, I picked up the latest issue of Men’s Journal and found a small item entitled “Super Bowl Party Upgrade: Barrel-Aged Beers” in its “Notebook” section at the front of the magazine. Said item, which highlights some very worthy brews, is introduced with the following sentence:
A handful of U.S. brewers have adopted an old European tradition of aging beer in wooden casks – generally, used bourbon or zinfandel barrels – to impart a richness of taste that modern production can’t touch.
Huh? Where to begin? Okay, at the beginning…
“A handful of U.S. brewers…” – Actually, no. Far from a handful, barrel-aging has been embraced by a multitude of breweries large and small from coast to coast and even – gasp! – outside of the United States. In fact, the practice is significant enough that, at the aforementioned Cheers Conference, I featured a barrel-conditioned ale in my tasting as an example of a burgeoning trend.
“…an old European tradition…” – In the sense that all beer was once kept in wooden barrels and beer has been brewed for millennia longer in Europe than in the U.S., yes, I guess so. But to equate bourbon barrel use in breweries in the States to the aging of porter in England or Flemish reds or lambics in Belgium is misguided at best.
“…used bourbon or zinfandel barrels…” – Okay, I’ll give you bourbon barrels, but zinfandel? More like, generally bourbon barrels but also numerous assorted wine and spirits barrels, including casks that previously held zinfandel, chardonnay, pinot noir and other wines.
“…impart a richness of taste that modern production can’t touch.” – To impart different flavours, I’ll buy, or even a collection of spirituous or tart, fruity flavours otherwise unobtainable, but don’t tell me that a non-barrelled beer can’t be as rich as a barrelled beer.