In tomorrow’s Austin American-Statesman, I explore the barrel programs at local breweries and distilleries, which often rely on each other to continue their wood-aged projects by swapping barrels — hot commodities that can sometimes be hard to find. (The story is already online here.)
Sadly, I didn’t have room to include all of the barrel-aged brews that have resulted from area brewers’ efforts, but consider this list your starter guide to ones that you can find around town right now.
Adelbert’s Tripel Treat: Adelbert’s Brewery founder Scott Hovey likes to go beyond bourbon barrels when aging beers for the brewery’s Vintage series. Because they’re easier to procure than other barrels out there, “bourbon barrel aging has been overdone, so it’s nice to offer something unique to consumers,” he said.
That “unique” beer comes in the form of Tripel Treat, Adelbert’s Tripel B aged in Treaty Oak’s Barrel Reserve rum barrels. It clocks in at a boozy 11.7 percent ABV, which you’ll taste in Tripel Treat’s “exquisite balance of warming rum notes, soft coconut and smooth oak, with a surprisingly fruity nose,” according to the brewery. It’s a good way to learn how barrels influence the beers within them; as Hovey noted, “the rum barrels really made the vanilla notes pop in ways that other barrels don’t.”
Hops & Grain Volumes of Funk: When Josh Hare’s East Austin brewery was about three months old, he purchased a dozen Jack Daniel’s barrels but didn’t start “diving deep” into barrel-aging until Hops & Grain was more established at a year-and-a-half. Now, the brewery has 86 barrels currently souring beers in the tasting room with the help of Brettanomyces and other microbes that are inoculated into the wood — a series of beers called Volumes of Funk. (The other side of the barrel program is Hops & Grain’s PorterCulture and Alteration aging in bourbon barrels for the Volumes of Oak series.)
The current Volumes of Funk beer is a sour brown ale that you can find at bars like the Wheel, on Manor Road, thanks to Austin Beer Week. This one will draw you in with rich aromas of fig and tart cherry and keep you captivated with a keen acidity and an earthy layer of funk. It’s not as easy to find as Hops & Grain’s canned mainstays, but if you do stumble upon it, prepare to relish in its complexity.
Ranger Creek’s Small Batch Series No. 11: In nearby San Antonio, Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling has a particular advantage over its other brewery counterparts: Thanks to its whiskey distillery side, it’ll always have barrels available to use for aging beer.
That’s the case with Ranger Creek’s Small Batch Series No. 11, an apricot sour. The “brewstillery” “blended together barrels of one-year-aged Belgian Blonde ale that was inoculated with a third generation of our house sour barrel,” according to Ranger Creek. “In the beer’s last month of barrel aging, we added over 25 pounds of fresh apricots to every barrel.” The result? A sweetly juicy beer full of warming vanilla, lively apricot and a funky zing.
Real Ale Brewing’s Mysterium Verum: One of the strongest barrel programs in Central Texas, Real Ale’s Mysterium Verum series relies on “new oak and used wine and spirits barrels, as well as (in some cases) secondary fermentation with wild yeasts and bacteria, to produce complex flavors beyond the realm of traditional brewers yeasts,” according to the Blanco brewery.
Current releases to look out for include Devil’s Share, Real Ale’s Devil’s Backbone Tripel; Empire, Real Ale’s Lost Gold IPA; and Highlander, Real Ale’s Real Heavy Scotch ale — all aged in red wine barrels. A particular treat for me is Devil’s Share, which takes on notes of caramel and banana-like esters when aged. The Devil’s Backbone taken up a notch, if you will.
Red Horn’s You Be Forty: The list of house beers at Red Horn Coffee House & Brewing Co. in Cedar Park keeps growing — and the latest one to join the roster is actually the first one the brewpub ever made. You Be Forty, a Belgian-style red ale that aged in red wine barrels from Hilmy Cellars in Fredericksburg, matured just in time for an Austin Beer Week release last week, joining Red Horn’s nine other house beers.
Although it aged for only three-and-a-half months in the Hilmy barrels, You Be Forty retains elements of the wine that came before it in the aroma and the flavor, according to the brewpub, with “dark berries, cinnamon and toffee” other dominating notes in the beer. This full-bodied brew certainly won’t be the last of Red Horn’s growing barrel-aging program, either; there will be plenty more to come.