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Robb Report Vices

Barrel-Aged Beers for the Season

Bailey S. Barnard

Strict guidelines are the norm in Europe’s top beer-producing nations; but thanks to an absence of stringent regulations here in the United States, craft breweries are free to experiment with old- and new-world techniques. In the 1990s, for example, U.S. breweries resuscitated Europe’s ancient practice of aging beer in oak barrels—a technique that was abandoned during the Industrial Revolution, when metal vats became the standard vessels for fermentation. Now, U.S. breweries are making more varieties of beer using oak barrels than their European counterparts ever did, and they are doing so with a truly American sense of exploration. And because of the influence of the oak and the longer aging process, these beers are often darker, richer, and fuller-bodied than usual. As a result, many barrel-aged beers are perfect winter indulgences. What follows is a selection of our favorite examples.

Russian River Temptation

This sour blond ale is aged from 9 to 15 months with Brettanomyces in Chardonnay barrels. The nose features Champagne-like scents of green apple and ripe lemons. The crisp flavors include dried apricot and a long, tart finish. (7.5% ABV; $12 per 375 mL) www.russianriverbrewing.com

Deschutes Abyss 2012 Reserve

Bold but smooth, this imperial stout is complex and well balanced. The nose is filled with oak and toffee, and the beer’s silken viscosity coats the palate with flavors that include sweet bourbon, cocoa powder, and a pleasant chalkiness. This beer is deceptively easy to drink. (11% ABV; $30 per 22 oz.) www.deschutesbrewery.com

The Bruery Black Tuesday

Having aged in bourbon barrels for more than a year, this imperial stout is dark, rich, and infinitely complex. The nose immediately reveals the beer’s high alcohol content. The robust flavor includes caramel, vanilla, toasted malt, and anise. This hard-to-find beer will age well. (18.9% ABV; $30 per 750 mL) www.thebruery.com

Stone Quingenti Millilitre Ruination IPA 2013 Series Batch No. 6

This quintessential U.S.-style IPA spends 16 months in oak barrels, which give it a wealth of depth and complexity. The nose is filled with bright floral notes and vanilla and nutty aromas. Bittering hops balance the malty, creamy body. Flavors include honey and charred oak, along with a hint of peat. (7.8% ABV; typically about $17 per 500 mL) www.stonebrewing.com

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