Ever since Chicago’s Goose Island decided to put a stout in six oak barrels that once held Jim Beam at the nascent Clybourn Brewpub in 1992, beer has never been the same. Nowadays, barrel-aged beers, along with hazy and milkshake IPAs, are all the rage.
This past year, Forager’s Nillerzzzzz was Minnesota’s highest-ranked beer on Beer Advocate. It is the beer that garnered the brewery national attention, which trickled down to me.
People often message me on Instagram from California, Texas, and beyond for Forager barrel-aged beers.
Just south of us, Pulpit Rock has made a name for itself with its barrel-aged offerings, and recently, those who won tickets to Toppling Goliath’s Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout (KBBS) flew in from all over the country – the world, even – to pay $100 for a 12-ounce bottle of beer in Decorah, Iowa. I’ve tried the previous release of KBBS, and it deserves its accolades.
Barrel-aged beer is a way for breweries to stay relevant, grow in stature, and make a name in a crowded drink world.
While I highly recommend everyone try to snag the above brewery’s offerings, the list below is a collection of great barrel-aged beers that are much easier to acquire.
Indeed – Rum King
This imperial stout is aged in Jamaican rum barrels, giving it a bombastic rum flavor up front without the heavy alcohol association. That’s not to say there isn’t a hint of booziness as you sip, but it’s held in check with a triad of powerful players: cocoa, vanilla, and wood. This is one of the best versions of the beer I’ve had (and I’ve tried all of them since 2013). Even better, this beer is released in four-packs of 12-ounce cans.
Bent Distillery – Dark Fatha
I’ve been beating the drum for this beer since its inception. And after all these years, the 2018 Dark Fatha might be the best. It’s an eruption of bourbon. Before that can get overpowering, though, the complexity is unmasked with a cocoa flavor laced within the creamy beer. Plus, the label features Darth Vader.
Lift Bridge – Barrel-Aged Silhouette
A consistent offering full of cocoa, chocolate, stiff barrel notes, a hint of buttery bourbon, and vanilla. Just a bit of the alcohol on the nose lets you know you’re drinking a big beer, but comes out as a boozy sweetness on your tongue. One of Minnesota’s best year after year.
Surly – Barrel-Aged Darkness
While the 2018 version isn’t out quite yet, this beer remains a stunning sipper thanks to its intense wood notes. Smooth chocolate, vanilla, marshmallow, and just a faint rye spice meet in a kaleidoscope of flavor. The beer reached its height in 2015 and 2016 (the first edition, 2015, even won a gold medal in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout category at the Great American Beer Festival in 2016). 2017 may have been a lesser year for the mighty Russian Imperial Stout, and the beer is a little pricier than other bottles, but it’s still one to check out at least once.