Brewers Roots Series: Old Fashioned Brown Ale and barrel-ageing beers
Dec 02, 2021
Our Brewers Roots Series comes from the beating hearts of our brew crew and is a chance for them to scratch that experimental itch, while showcasing their passion for getting their hands dirty in the brewhouse.
Their latest concoction is our Old Fashioned Brown Ale, a blend our Brown Ale with a 12-month barrel-aged batch of the same brew, to create a beer for both whiskey and beer lovers alike.
This super limited release beer is our brewers rendition of the Whiskey Old Fashioned cocktail, with Seville orange zest from our very own orange tree and smoky vanilla and caramel characters from the whiskey barrels.
We sat down with our Brewers Lachie and Charlotte to find out a bit more about all things barrel-ageing and how we used whiskey barrels to emulate the flavours of a classic cocktail.
For all the beer novices out there, what exactly is barrel-aged beer and how does it work?
Barrel aged beer is beer that has spent time being aged in barrels which adds a unique flavour and complexity to the beer. Usually aged in spirit or wine barrels these characters are imparted onto the beer along with oak character from the barrel itself.
Barrel aged beers can be 'clean' such as aged imperial stouts or could be inoculated with wild yeast and bacteria cultures to create a more funky beer which develops in the barrel over time.
Originally these beers would be spontaneously fermented by being exposed to wild microflora in the atmosphere in a coolship then being transferred to barrel and slowly fermenting and souring. Barrel aged beers are usually blended so the best barrels are chosen to represent the unique transformation the beer has undertaken.
What kinds of barrels are best to use, and what kinds of flavours can you expect from these barrels?
The barrel you would choose depends on the kind of beer you are putting in the barrels. For example a big imperial stout would age well in Bourbon barrels, taking on the maple-y bourbon character as well as aromas such as vanillin and coconut usually found in American oak that Bourbon barrels are made from.
However a mixed fermentation Saison for example would age well in wine barrels, French oak imparts more subtle flavours on the beer with firmer tannins than American oak and the vinous character the beer would take on would really compliment it's saison origins, light tannins and funky but wine like aroma.
What styles of beer are best suited to barrel-ageing and which beer style improves most with age?
Lots of styles of beer can be barrel aged. Imperial stouts are famously barrel aged, and anything mixed fermentation is pretty classic.
What kinds of beer styles are worst suited to barrel-ageing?
Really hoppy beers aren't well suited for barrel ageing as hop aromas are extremely volatile and will fade quickly.
Tell us a bit about the flavours profiles of the classic cocktail, Whiskey Old Fashioned.
The Whiskey Old Fashioned has been around for a long time, dating back to the late 1800's. originally made with crushed sugar, angostura bitters a lemon or orange peel and whisky.
It's an interesting combination of sweet and aromatic but can be intense depending on the whisky used, this will determine the amount of 'peaty' characteristics which is usually that smoky flavour you get from whisky to put it simply.
Usually in distilling before they mash their barley they smoke it with peat from the bogs that are typically found in the UK. These characteristics do not necessarily apply to American Whiskey. Basically expect flavours of brown/raw sugar, aromatic bitters and smoky/peaty/vanilla/oaky imparted from the whisky.
How is this reflected in the Old Fashioned Brown Ale?
By Having the beer aged in whisky barrels it has transferred some of the typical whisky flavours to the beer, mainly a heaving oak flavour followed by some vanilla and some peaty notes. We also added a bunch of zest from the seville orange tree here at the farm to try to emulate the cocktail.
How long did the Brown Ale go into barrel hibernation and how did you ensure it was on track with the ageing process?
Around 12 months! We checked the beers at approximately 4 months in barrel however we decided that there was not enough of the barrel and whisky characters there so we put them back to bed for a further 8 months until the time was right.
What flavours were imparted on the beer from the barrels?
A light whisky character with lots of rounded oak...
What's the #1 tip you can give to home brewers out there looking to dabble into barrel-aged beer?
They could buy small barrels, but they might find the first fill quite intense. Maybe conditioning on flavoured wood chips would be better? Or dabble with stainless fermented mixed fermentation beers instead!
Who has done a barrel-aged beer really well, and why is it your top pick?
Cantillon, a traditional Lambic producer in Belgium since the 1900s, is legendary, and a lot of breweries in the US are producing great beers such as Jester King and Crooked Stave. Closer to home though Wildflower in Sydney are killing it with the mixed ferm beers and Garage Project have made some great bourbon barrel aged stouts and mixed ferm beers too.
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