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Barrel-aging wood make that beer even better

wood me two

If you leave a liquid inside a wood barrel long enough, magical things can happen.

This isn’t a secret. Vintners from from France to California and distillers from Scotland to Kentucky couldn’t do without the wood casks; their wines and whiskeys wouldn’t be the same without them.

These days, those wine and whiskey barrels often end up in the hands of craft brewers, who cherish them for the same reason — months inside a barrel will impart similar flavors the beer wouldn’t have otherwise. And yes, that means oaky notes or tannins from the wood, and additional layers from the booze that was left behind. Aging a stout in a bourbon barrel? You’re going to notice hints of that whiskey in your glass. And setting aside that same beer in barrel that was used to age pinot noir means you’re likely to find tastes of fruit alongside the beer you’re expecting.

There are plenty of famous examples of barrel-aged beers out there — the annual November release of Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout¬†always causes an uproar — but before you go chasing down those, take a good look around here first, because there are plenty of examples to taste.

In the pursuit of the last two shows alone, I’ve come across several that are worth the time and effort to track down. At East End Brewing, I’ve tasted Old Knobby, the brewery’s bourbon-barrel aged stock ale, for the show and Steel Cut Oatmeal Stout off camera. You’ll see my reaction to my first taste of the excellent Red Russian stout at Hop Farm Brewing in this episode; the red wine-tinged imperial stout was worth being excited about. And if you happen to stop at Penn Brewery and they still have a bit of their barrel-aged St. Nikolaus Bock available, you shouldn’t pass it up.

I have another suggestion: Grab yourself a ticket to second-annual Good Wood Festival, scheduled for Jan. 16 at East End, which co-sponsors the event with Wigle Whiskey. Breweries all over the region are doing great things with barrels of all varieties — and they’ll all be available in one place that night.

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