In 2014, 615 new craft breweries opened in the United States, bringing the number of breweries up to 3,418. As I’ve been learning more about craft beer over the past several months, I’ve discovered that many of them are getting creative with used barrels.
Most breweries that barrel-age use barrels that have held other alcoholic beverages such as whisky, wine or brandy. Brewers age their beers in these barrels to infuse the brew with the flavors left in the barrel.
The trend has grown quickly over the past decade, and there’s a sustainable side effect to barrel-aging beer. Not too long ago, barrels were destroyed or turned into planters or coffee tables after distilleries and wineries were unable to use them. Now, barrels that used to get discarded after their initial use are finding second lives. It’s a good use of the all the resources that went into making the barrels.
I met Scott Vaccaro, owner and brewer of Captain Lawrence Brewing in New York, at a recent tasting lunch. His wine barrel-aged Cuvee de Castleton won the first-ever gold medal for an American or German Style Sour Beer at the Great American Beer Festival in 2007. Vaccaro uses barrel-aging for several of his beers, making good use of brandy, bourbon, port and wine barrels.
Using the barrels isn’t specifically a part of Captain Lawrence Brewing’s sustainable efforts, but Vaccaro said, “We’re happy to be the ones that get to reuse them.”
Getting used barrels isn’t as inexpensive as it used to be. Vaccaro noted that not too long ago, when there were more barrels being emptied than reused, the cost of a used barrel was about $40. Now a barrel runs $150 and up.
“The demand is increasing because there are flat out more breweries,” said Vaccaro.
I’ve been seeking out barrel-aged beers when I can. I grabbed a Finch’s Beer Co. Pig in the Wood from the local liquor store last week, not knowing anything about. It’s a whisky barrel-aged ale, and I really enjoyed it. It was caramely and smooth with flavors I’m not used to in beer, but very welcome flavors.
Beyond supporting this sustainable process, sipping a beer and discovering a new flavor that you’ve probably never tasted in a beer before is one of the best reasons to try barrel-aged beers.
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