According to the “Beer Man” of Wisconsin’s Appleton Post-Crescent (and syndicated nationally on the Gannett News Service) — Todd Haefer — bourbon barrel stouts are just a fad. It’s nice to see any newspaper embrace beer and give space regularly to reporting on beer so I hate to contradict such a worthy endeavor, but I think misinformation can be just as damning as no information at all. Todd, who took over for the previous “Beer Man” in October of last year, had this to say in the course of reviewing a beer from Tyranena Brewing of Lake Mills, Wisconsin:
There was a craze a few years ago in microbrewery circles involving the aging of imperial stouts in bourbon barrels. Some were very good. But, as will likely happen with the current trend of “imperial India pale ales” and “imperial pilsners,” it soon ran its course. Examples do still exist, but not on a national scale.
Really? Bourbon Barrel beers are just another fad? As far as I know, there are still dozens of breweries still making a barrel-aged stout. I’m especially troubled by his characterizing them as no longer being “on a national scale.” Were bourbon barrel stouts ever on a national scale, by which I can only presume he means at least one beer that’s distributed nationally to all fifty states? Having just done a barrel-aged tasting for the next issue of the Celebrator, I can say quite comfortably that all beers aged in wood are on the rise. These things are quite literally coming out of the woodwork. More and more brewers are experimenting with what barrel-aging can add to their line-up of beers. Every year, there are more festivals dedicated to this niche style. The Bistro in Hayward, California, just added one which takes place November 11 and will include judging in three categories.
Perhaps Todd is speaking specifically about stouts aged on wood. But if there are less barrel-aged stouts today then a few years ago — and I don’t know of any evidence to suggest that — then there are many more styles now being aged in wood then ever before in the history of American beer. If a brewery today chooses an IPA to age instead of a stout does that make stout just a fad? I think stouts were the obvious place to begin experimenting with barrel aging beers and having found success there brewers are branching out in ever-widening directions to discover what other complexities can be achieved through the aging process. This is an exciting time in brewing and I don’t like the idea of saying that if bourbon barrel stouts led to barrel-aging other beers and a whole new type of beer-making process that they were “just a fad.” It’s just the wrong message to send, especially when the real story is much more positive.
All manner of beer today is being aged not just in bourbon barrels, but in various wine barrels, whiskey barrels, and even fruit barrels and who knows what else with some pretty spectacular results. And having previously been relegated to the experimental category, since 2002 the Great American Beer Festival has been judging “Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer” as a separate category. Clearly this type of beer is here to stay. Barrel-aged beers are not “dry beers” or “low-carb” beers created by marketing men. The are a legitimate new additive process that produces some spectacular complexities in craft beers. We should celebrate that fact, perhaps with a barrel-aged stout? Who’s with me? I’m pouring.