Aging beer in barrels is the ultimate in brewing experimentation. The flavor parameters and characteristics of hops and grains are easily known and measured, and the behavior, life cycle and genome of yeast has entire colleges dedicated to its study. Brewing is part art but mostly known chemistry, which largely ends as soon as the product is kegged or bottled.
Barrel aging is often hope and guesswork subject to the whims of extended time, the characteristics of wood and liquor, and the particular set of local microfauna. It is also great for business, as many brewers can continue to enhance otherwise finished (static?) recipes to the delight of consumers. Casks formerly housing whiskey or bourbon are the natural primary choice for beer given their similarities but brewers have also had great success using wine containers, especially those built of white oak.
Now the envelope is getting pushed as a handful of brewers are experimenting with used tequila barrels. This is truly a conceptual leap for many reasons, not the least of which are the absolute dissimilarities between blue agave and malted barley. To start, barrels used for whiskey, bourbon or wine are often used only once for aging, then sold to brewers who also use them only once for aging beer and then discard them, selling them whole to homebrewers or in pieces as wood for smokers.
On the other hand, barrels for tequila are used again and again. Tequila manufacturers do use new oak barrels but more commonly they use the same barrels brewers get, barrels that originally held wine or other spirits. These barrels are then reused for subsequent batches, sometimes to a point bordering physical disintegration before they are thrown out. This gives beer aged in tequila barrels a singular provenance, as they may inherit a history of many varied spirits and flavors.
Our own Lakewood Brewing recently collaborated with Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House and Puro Verde tequila in an event dubbed ¡Ay Dios Amigos! held last Sunday at Goodfriend. Acquiring used tequila barrels (originally holding Wild Turkey bourbon in a previous life) from Puro Verde, Lakewood set aside a few beers for months to see how they would age. The results might not win any craft beer medals but credit to Belgian-inspired Lakewood for blazing a new trail.
- Magdalena (La Dame du Lac). The second beer in their Legendary Series, La Dame began as a limited-release bière de garde that was a little on the hoppy side for the style. Months in a tequila barrel tamed that hoppiness quite a bit and added a hint of a sour finish, which only played into the subtle fruity tequila flavor and mild alcoholic heat on the back end.
- Alejandra (La Dame du Lac with prickly pear fruit). This beer was missing the slight sour of the first, retaining a touch of the hops with a dry, fruity, almost (good) vegetal flavor of the tuna followed by the warmth of the tequila.
- Esteban (Lakewood Lager). The cleanest beer of the bunch, this Vienna lager retained much of its malty nature with a gentle follow-up of the tequila flavor in the back of the mouth. This beer showcased the barrel aging and both the original beer and liquor very nicely.
- Francisco (Lakewood Lager with ancho chiles). Immediate ancho on the nose, dry and smokey. This beer was flavored much like the Esteban but with a subtle blanket of that smokey ancho, noticeable but barely enough to identify.
Availability: Sadly, nil. This was a Goodfriend exclusive event. Please do this again.