Welcome to Barrel Season!

You might be wondering what I mean by ‘Barrel Season’, so I’ll explain myself.  You can find a barrel-aged beer on the shelves of any liquor store in town from January to December.  However, it’s around this time of year that their numbers appear to increase dramatically.  But it’s not just the pure number of barrel-aged beers that makes this season so great… it’s the hunt for the rare ones.  By the time you read this, many (but hopefully not all) of the beers I’m about to mention may have already flown off the shelves.  Don’t worry, I’ll highlight a few to look out for in the next month or so.

Pictured: Mikkeller Barrel-Aged Black Hole (Bourbon & Tequila), Deschutes Black Butte XXIII, Firestone Walker Parabola, Boulevard Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, and Hoppin’ Frog Barrel-Aged B.O.R.I.S. Oatmeal-Imperial Stout

Here are a few to keep an eye out for that have already been released:

Black Butte XXIII  by Deschuttes Brewing Company

You may still be able to find Deschutes 23rd Anniversary beer at local liquor stores, but move quickly.  Not only is the beer good, but Deschutes has an almost cult-like following that may snag them all up before you get the chance.

XXIII.  So where to next?  What’s 2011’s rich, imperial take on Black Butte Porter?  Just for kicks, you dream. Orange zest perhaps?  From Spanish Oranges.  Seville, to be exact.  And Chocolate nibs.  Pampered nibs from the artisanal alchemists at Theo.  Maybe some chilies?  Pasilla Negra only, please.  That would be crazy wouldn’t it?  Welcome to crazy.  Get it while you can.  10.8% ABV

Parabola by Firestone Walker Brewing Company

If you’ve been reading our site regularly, you know that Firestone Walker, an award-winning California brewery, has begun to release their beers in Colorado.  The rarest of these is Parabola, one of their ‘Proprieters Reserve’ brews.  It just hit some local stores and has already begun to sell out, so get hunting!

Parabola has been a major component of past anniversary blends and is one of our most aggressive offerings. This beer features bold bourbon and tobacco aromas and a rich dark chocolate, charred oak flavor. Parabola is best enjoyed in moderation and is a perfect beer to pair with those chocolate dessert favs.  12.5% ABV

Barrel-Aged Black Hole (Series) by Mikkeller

Mikkeller definitely takes the cake for most innovative barrel-aged beers as they’ve released six versions of their Black Hole stout including Tequila, Bourbon, Cognac, Red Wine, White Wine, and Scotch.

Stout ale brewed with coffee, honey, and vanilla, aged in [insert variety] barrels.  13.1% ABV

Barrel-Aged B.O.R.I.S. Oatmeal-Imperial Stout by Hoppin’ Frog Brewery

Just because you may not have heard of this brewery doesn’t mean their beer isn’t amazing.  They’ve won multiple medals at GABF and they have a knack for producing some of the best stouts out there.

Made from our B.O.R.I.S. Imperial Stout, that was rated one of the World’s 50 Best Beers, and won the Gold Medal at the GABF in 2008.  BARREL-AGED B.O.R.I.S. has picked up rich characters of vanilla, dark fruit, oak, and spice.  It’s unbelievably complex and savory.  9.4% ABV

Imperial Stout (Smokestack Series) by Boulevard Brewing Company

On the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of brand awareness is Boulevard, one of the largest craft breweries in the country.  However, just because they produce over 600,000 barrels a year doesn’t mean they’ve sold out.  If you see this beer on the shelves, pick it up.  You can thank me later.

Like India Pale Ale, the classic Imperial Stouts were originally brewed with high levels of alcohol and hops to withstand the rigors of a long sea journey, not to India but to Imperial Russia and the Baltic States.  Our version is an over-the-top riff on the style, with a huge grain bill featuring several kinds of malted barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt.  Robust grain and coffee flavors are counterbalanced by date and plum notes from the Belgian yeast.  To add extra complexity and depth, this Imperial Stout is made up of a blend of freshly brewed beer and several barrel-aged beers, carefully balanced.  Za Vas!  11.0% ABV

…And here are a few to look out for in the coming months:

Barrel-Aged Hibernation/Old Ruffian/Yeti by Great Divide Brewing Company

Great Divide will have aged these beers for 9 months in Stranahan’s whiskey barrels by the time of their release in October.  All three look to be very promising.

BARREL AGED HIBERNATION ALE

Nine months in Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey barrels has completely transformed our prized winter seasonal, producing a Hibernation that starts with big whiskey flavors before mellowing out into luscious chocolate, dark fruit and vanilla. This bottle-conditioned ale will continue to develop over time; if you can take only one bottle into your cave this winter, we strongly suggest this one. 11.1% ABV.

BARREL AGED OLD RUFFIAN BARLEY WINE

This special release of our acclaimed, hefty barley wine has been aged for 9 months in Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey barrels.  The process tempers Old Ruffian’s edges for a mellowed version with heady whiskey flavors and subtle oak notes. Bottle conditioned, it’ll age nicely for years.  If you can resist it that long. 85-90 IBU’s. 12.7% ABV.

BARREL AGED YETI IMPERIAL STOUT

This unique version of our monstrous Yeti Imperial Stout is aged for 9 months in Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey barrels and then bottle conditioned. The spirited aging process produces a hugely complex but mellowed Yeti, with its signature roasted flavors, hints of vanilla and oak, and a whiskeyed finish. Who says you can’t tame a beast? 75 IBU’s. 12.2% ABV.

Bourbon Barrel Stout by Odell Brewing Company

This was one of my favorite bourbon barrel-aged stouts of 2010 and I can’t wait to try it again this year.  Odell is set to release this beer some time in September.

This limited edition offering begins with a full-bodied imperial stout that has notes of sweet milk chocolate, smooth vanilla and roasted coffee beans.  Then things get interesting.  We transfer it to Kentucky bourbon barrels where it’s aged for four months to let traces of oak and caramel come forward.  The bourbon barrels have a remarkable effect on the beer.  In turn, the beer has a remarkable effect on the senses.  10.5% ABV.

Do you have a favorite barrel-aged beer?  Perhaps one that’s not on this list?  Share it in the comments!

About Sean Buchan


Sean is a Physical Therapist and Photographer living in (and loving) Denver, Colorado. He enjoys shooting just about anything but his true passion is capturing the craft beer culture here in Denver. If you enjoy his photographs check out Beertographer.

  • http://denveroffthewagon.com/ Jess Hunter

    So does that mean you beat Ryan Conklin to the Black Hole?

    • http://www.mackinnonphotography.com/ Sean Buchan

      Sadly, no. He beat me by a few hours, granted he has the advantage of not working during the day.

  • http://www.greatdivide.com Hanna Laney

    Just a heads up, we don’t have a definite release date for our barrel aged series here at Great Divide. We will keep everyone updated!

  • Ryan

    Mikkeller book ends?