The vast majority of beer is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, but a growing band of more adventurous brewers are ageing their beers in barrels. “All beer would have once been matured and transported in wooden casks of some kind,” says Shane Kelly of Dot Brew, one of the first Irish brewers to specialise in barrel-aged beers.
“Our very first beer was brewed in 2014. We do standard beers alongside, but barrel beers are our focus. If you go to Belgium they have been doing things the same way for hundreds of years – and still doing it.”
“It is exactly the same as with whiskey; you get beers finished in various casks. Bourbon barrels have a roasted profile perfect for stout, wine barrels with a medium toast give great nuance. Virgin (unused) oak gives a lot of flavour for the first couple of times. Overall, barrel-ageing rounds the beer out and adds a finish.”
Is it always going to be a niche product? “There is certainly a good market for them,” says Jimmy Redmond of Redmond’s. “The conventional craft beer market are all mimicking each other. Barrels add a whole new range of flavours.”
Redmond’s collaborates with Kelly to produce their own exclusive brews. “We’ve done four so far – two imperial stouts, an amber and a pale ale – all aged in Madeira barrels.”
Redmond was about to take delivery of his latest collaboration, a pale ale aged in Tokaji barrels. “The flavours of wood are much more evident in beer than wine; they really come forward. It softens and fills out with time and becomes more complex.”
Blackrock Cellar also made an exclusive with Dot Brew. Gold Blend was aged in a mix of Sauternes and Chardonnay casks. Nicolas Coitino, beer manager, agrees with Redmond. “There is a real market; people are asking for them. It is not just about strong stouts; there are IPAs, pale ales and red ales. A few years ago it was all bourbon and American oak. Now we have all sorts of barrels. It adds complexity to a beer – lovely fruity flavours. It’s interesting and actually really works.”