Rolling out the barrels

Local breweries pushing the barrel-aging envelope

We’re at the point in the craft beer renaissance where barrel-aged beers are no longer rare. Sure, they’re rarer versions of certain beers in most cases (typically imperial stouts), but many craft breweries have barrel programs and oak-aged ales on tap on a regular basis. The majority of the wooden vessels used for beer-aging formerly housed whiskey or wine, but as with any evolving artisanal movement, brewers are beginning to explore more exotic receptacles.

The Lost Abbey was the first San Diego County brewery to go the tequila route, releasing the cleverly named Agave Maria last year. This came after the Cognac brandy barrel-aged Sede Vacante and well ahead of the recently tapped Santo Ron Diego, an intense rum barrel-aged experiment that’s so filled with the spirit it no longer tastes like beer. Even a three-ounce sampler drinks like a Man Vs. Food challenge daring one to get through it.

Recently, the interest that first brewed at Lost Abbey’s facility, Stone Brewing Co., went an interesting direction for a collaboration beer brewed with Portland, Oregon’s Ecliptic Brewing Company and Asheville, North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing Company. Dubbed Ecliptic/Wicked Weed/Stone Points Unknown IPA, it’s a blend of fresh double IPA (80%) and a barrel-aged Belgian-style tripel (20%). The latter was placed in a barrel that housed red wine before finding a second life holding añejo tequila, providing a wealth of flavors to flavor the tripel and, eventually, the entire beer. That beer will be released locally in April.

Perhaps the most intriguing barrel project set to debut is a collaborative offspring of Mission Brewery and the U.S. Grant Hotel. Back in 2010, the Grant’s sommelier and Cicerone Jeff Josenhans, ventured to High West Distillery in Utah where he funneled Manhattan ingredients (rye whiskey, vermouth, bitters) into a rye whiskey barrel and aged it 100 days to celebrate the hotel’s centennial anniversary. Later, the cocktail was bottled and sold at the hotel’s restaurant, Grant Grill. Now, those barrels house an imperial red rye ale that will be bottled and sold at Grant Grill starting in May.

But when it comes to one of the best traditional barrel-aged beers in San Diego history, Green Flash Brewing Company has you covered. Tomorrow, May 24, the company is releasing the new vintage of its Silva Stout, a version of Green Flash Double Stout sequestered in bourbon whiskey barrels for 18 months. It will be the first of the Cellar 3 series made up of barrel-aged beers from the Mira Mesa-based brewery's oak storage facility in Poway. A perennial favorite of local beer fans, it is certain to go quickly.

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