When we drove from Brooklyn to California, we took the essentials: brew kettle, fermenters, grains, beer books, a raincoat. Everything else we left in a storage unit. We were just in New York for a week of book promotion, and we visited our unit, flung open the door, and felt that strange relief you feel when absolutely nothing has changed. More specifically: when your barrel of beer hasn’t exploded over all your belongings.
Almost exactly one year ago, the day before we set out on the cross-country drive that would become our book, we filled a Tuthilltown Four-Grain Bourbon barrel with two batches of an imperial Russian stout and stashed it in our storage unit. Last week, we opened it up.
Most breweries wouldn’t dare let a beer age that long, especially in barrels as small as the 2.5-gallon one we used. That’s because wood is porous, and too much oxygen in a beer can make it taste like cardboard. The smaller the barrel, the greater the proportion of beer inside it touching wood, and the more oxygen will get in. “When you’re barrel aging,” Avery‘s barrel room manager Andy Parker told us, “your biggest enemy is oxygen.” Andy recommended a couple of weeks, tops.
Well, he’s right, kind of. The beer tasted old — but mostly it tasted like whiskey. Beer-flavored whiskey. If this sounds awesome, that’s because, duh, it is. We siphoned a few ounces into an old Red Stripe bottle and brought it over to Beer Sessions Radio for a tasting with Jimmy Carbone, Ray Deter, Chris O’Leary, Jen Schwertman, and our old friend John Segal, Jr. Tasting notes: bourbon, burnt chocolate, mulch, campfire, day-old coffee, and yeah, OK, a soupcon of cardboard. But look at those legs!
The barrel was still soaked with bourbon when we added the beer, and as it breathed, the bourbon seeped in. When our bottles arrive here, we’ll take an official ABV reading, and carbonate it. Also, we need a name. Stay tuned.