Barrels are back in the breweries and their return is quite recent (except, of course, for the few breweries that have never abandoned these containers, like the Lambic brewers around Brussels) and it shows the permanent balance that exists between tradition and modernity within the craft beer world.
We are curious about experimenting with these old-fashioned tools, that recently came back under the spotlight, but we also want to stay true to ourselves: by favorizing beers with good drinkability rather than strong alcohol content, and by using barrels of French wines used by famous wine-growers rather than common bourbon barrels, usually used for their alcohol content and their ability to confer strong aromas very quickly to the beer.
The barrels, usually made of oak, were the historical containers of beer, used for storage and transport, but also for the service, when they were draught directly from the barrel itself. The development of stainless steel tanks and casks progressively made the barrels disappear: easier to clean and transport, and protecting the beer from any unwanted aroma transfer, stainless steel wins.
Indeed, barrels can transfer, depending on their age and the previous liquid it was carrying, grilled and toasted aromas, and hints of vanilla, specific to new wooden barrels, but also subtler earthy and woody notes, oxidative aromas linked to the porosity of larger wooden barrels, and the impact of yeasts or wild bacteria in the wood (that can be used willingly, depending on what the brewer wants). Usually, barrel aged beer is preserved between 4 and 12 months to really give it character.
For those of you who have been following us for a certain time now, you may already know that we insist on proposing freshly brewed beers and these barrel-aging projects may seem contradictory with our principles. The main reasons as to why we propose freshly brewed beers is to put forward the strength of the aromas and the taste of hops, that shades off with time, and also to fight oxidation which is always considered an off-flavor for a non-aged beer.
With beer aging, the idea is to play with the fading of the aromas, anticipating the impact of their weaker presence and integrating the oxidation as a parameter of the recipe in order to create beers with a particular and unique style.
We have, since December, acquired a dozen barrels coming from Le Domaine Agapé and Chateau Meylet, which we filled with a season beer made with Aramis hops (the same ones used in our Trouble 6). We also have inoculated one barrel with sour blend to experiment with stronger acidity.
Le Domaine Agapé, which is located in Alsace, in the town of Riquewihr, gave us barrels of 225 liters, that were containing Pinot Noir since 2011 or 2012. Chateau Meylet, a pioneer in biodynamic agriculture in Saint Emilion, gave us “demi muids” (literally “half almuds”, an old French measurement of volume system) of 500 liters, that were containing their Saint-Emilion for 2 or 3 years.
After 3 months, we can see that:
The barrel-aged beers from Le Domaine Agape show floral notes, delicate and pleasant. Rounder tasting than the Château Meylet ones, they develop acidities more or less subtle, depending on the barrels.
The château Melyet are warmer with hints of spices. Presenting earthy and woody notes, with a very subtle acidity.
We should also receive new barrels from Alsace, Bourgogne and Jura in the weeks to come to continue with our experimentations.