Did you know that to be real bourbon, the barrels can only be used once? It’s true! The Clockwatching Tart and I recently took a little road trip to Kentucky and took a tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery, where we learned that fun fact.
So, what to do with all those used but still perfectly good – perhaps even better – barrels? Make Ontario craft beer, of course. Honestly, it does make perfect sense when you think about it. If you can put clear, relatively tasteless alcohol into a barrel and have it come out as something as wonderful as bourbon, what happens when you put something already wonderful like beer into a barrel for aging? Magic, that’s what.
One of the newest barrel-aged releases to hit the LCBO is Wellington Brewery’s Frost Quake, a 9.8% bourbon barrel-aged barely wine aged in barrels sourced from the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Based on their Yuletide Barley Wine, which is already a malty delight of toffee and dried fruits, Frost Quake gets even more complexity and depth of flavour from the bourbon barrels. The barrels take something very good and make it great by complementing the notes that are already there and adding oak and vanilla notes that aren’t.
You don’t actually have to put your beer in an actual barrel to take advantage of the notes wood will give a beer. For Flying Monkeys The Matador Version 2.0 El Toro Bravo, they took an imperial dark rye ale and aged it on a bed of Spanish cedar. While the 10.1% dark rye ale might be a little sweet on its own, the smokiness and spiciness from the cedar balance it out and make for a much more memorable beer.
My local brewery, Forked River Brewing Company in London, even got in on the barrel-aging action this winter with the release of Weendigo, a 10.2% imperial stout aged in Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey barrels. Wonderfully complex, Weendigo rewards you for your patience and gives off different notes as it warms up. The whiskey notes can be pretty intense at the start, but they give way to really rich, dark chocolate and coffee notes. It’s a great winter warmer and seems like a prime candidate for cellaring.
Finally, we have Nickel Brook Brewing Co.’s Old Kentucky Bastard, which starts life as Nickel Brook’s already delicious Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout and then becomes Old Kentucky Bastard after being aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Thanks to our Kentucky road trips, I’ve started to like bourbon, but if they only made bourbon so that they could make bourbon barrel-aged stouts like Kentucky Bastard, I’d be totally fine with that. I’m on record for loving imperial stouts and their velvety, dark roasted coffee and chocolate goodness, but the barrel aging makes it an even more special treat with added aroma and warming notes of vanilla and oak.
With a little bit of luck and the help of the LCBO website or app, you can still track down these barrel-aged wonders – but do it quickly, because they won’t be around for long. Just clicks the links and search for inventory near you: Frost Quake, The Matador, Weendigo, and Old Kentucky Bastard. Cheers!