The wild world of craft beer is getting so experimental that barrel-aging, a practice that used to represent something of a “next level” in the brewing industry, is starting to be regarded as a bit ho hum. Beer enthusiasts still love the intense flavors brought on by holding a beer in a liquor barrel. Whiskey- and brandy-tinged stouts and barleywines offer mass appeal and such rich character they’re capable of replacing desserts at the end of a meal. It’s just become fairly commonplace to fill up a Heaven’s Hill barrel. And with each alcohol-laden wood receptacle that gets filled, a bit of the allure—much like the edge on a bourbon barrel dopplebock—softens and fades away.
One local brewing company that’s been aging their beer in barrels for a long time and in great quantities is Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits (10051 Old Grove Road, Scripps Ranch). As the wood-aged versions of their Navigator Dopplebock, Piper Down Scottish Ale, and Sea Monster Stout display, they’ve built up serious proficiency in this area. Fittingly, these experts are taking barrel-aging to the next level and, in doing so, incorporating the wares of their brewery and distillery operations.
A while back, head distiller Yuseff Cherney filled some new American white oak barrels with Ballast Point’s Three Sheets Rum, and let it age for two years. After the rum was transferred into bottles, he refilled the barrels, this time with Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter, a dark, semisweet beer with a smooth finish marked by roasty notes of java from North Park's Caffe Calabria.
The beer sat for a year-and-a-half, soaking in the rum, until last month when Cherney bottled the beer and set it aside for distribution at special events that will take place over the course of the rest of the year. Most would have stopped there, but this is where things get interesting. Those barrels have been filled once again, this time with a new batch of Three Sheets in order to produce what is bound to be a unique tasting beer barrel-aged rum.
They say good things come to those who wait. Guess we’ll find out in two years. At least there’s some pretty good aged Victory at Sea to help pass the time.