Craft Beer Makes Me Live in the Moment (…yeah, and I like barrel-aged beer)



Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner by nature. I like to know what is ahead of me. This leads me to routines, like always ordering the same thing when I go to a particular restaurant. Other menu items may look appealing, but once I find something I really like, I stick with it. I don’t want to risk disappointment by ordering something different and then find myself longing for the old favorite. Yes, this probably sounds boring.

I am finding, however, that craft beer forces me to be more spontaneous and can lead to delicious surprises. Most craft breweries change out their beer choices with the seasons and many experiment with new varieties now and then. So, I can’t assume that I can just find a favorite and order it again and again. I often have to live on the edge and try something new. I also have to relish every moment I have with a limited edition brew since it will likely not be there for me the next time.

A Friday ago, we went to Kinney Creek Brewery to kill some time prior to going out to dinner. While there, I fell in love with the Barrel Aged Darca-Doo that my husband ordered. On another day, I might have been writing about the merits of the cacao infused beer that I chose because it was really good, but the Barrel aged Darca-Doo made me forget all other beers. I haven’t had a beer that delicious in…well, maybe ever.

My prior experience with barrel-aged brews was the Dragon’s Milk from New Holland Brewing. It has been a favorite for years. New Holland describes it as “a stout with roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones, all dancing in an oak bath.”  The Dragon’s Milk was definitely my favorite when we took the New Holland brewery tour and it is often in our shopping cart when we can, on occasion, find it in our local liquor store. I have now made a mental note that whenever there is a barrel-age choice on the beer menu, I should try it.

To make a barrel-aged beer, the brewer ages beer for a period of time in a wooden barrel. This allows the beer to pick up flavors from the wood and from whatever was previously in the barrel. According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article on the topic, interest in barrel aging beer resurfaced a decade ago when brewers found that aging beer in bourbon barrels could “add tasty vanilla overtones to their porters and stouts.” The article claimed that the “residual flavors and lingering microflora from whatever liquid they previously held” don’t transfer from the wood to beer automatically, but rather have to be brought out during a secondary fermentation process involving wild yeast. Reusing barrels is not unique to beer making. While on a tour of the Isle of Arran distillery in Scotland, we learned that they age their Scotch whisky in wine barrels.

Beer brewers have been known to reuse barrels that previously were used to hold everything from wine, to scotch, to brandy, to rum and, in the case of my new favorite beer, whiskey. Bourbon and whisky barrels are especially popular because they are fairly readily available and because they have intense flavor characteristics. By U.S. law, whisky, of which bourbon is a variety, has to be aged in new oak barrels. Each barrel can only be used once and that means that the distillers have lots of used barrels to discard. Whisky and Bourbon whisky barrels can be used to create blends of vanilla, caramel, toffee, and/or toast aromas and flavors in beer. And, since whisky and bourbon barrels are charred for the distilling process, their reuse can add smokiness to beer. Because every used barrel might be a little different, making barrel-aged beer can be more complicated for the brewer than other beers and can be harder to replicate in subsequent batches.

I did a quick taste test by ordering a sample of the normal Darca-Doo Imperial Stout and comparing that to a sample of the Barrel Aged Darca-Doo Imperial Stout. The normal Darco-Doo was enjoyable, but the barrel-aging process added intense flavor and a smoothness that wasn’t found in the original.

Donovan, the brew master at Kinney Creek, was happy to answer all of our questions about this beer. I should have been taking notes. The 9.1% ABV on that beer made it hard for me to remember all the details, such as which whiskey manufacturer’s barrels were used. But, I do remember learning that due to the boom in craft brewing, the price of whiskey barrels is on the rise. (We heard a similar story about the rising price of barrels in Scotland five years ago and their web site now says they use ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks for aging, so perhaps they’ve had to modify their operations.) It was good news to hear that Kinney Creek has whisky barrels on order for future brewing.

So, back to the lament of this posting… The Barrel-Aged Darca-Doo was only available at that one point in time that we were at the brewery. It was just a small batch. Growler fills of it were not available and when it is gone, it’s gone.  I can’t plan to order it every time I find myself back at Kinney Creek. It was a very pleasant surprise to find this beer and I had to savor each sip. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to order it again and again and again, I slowed down and really enjoyed it.

P.S. Full disclosure. Kinney Creek did produce a very limited number of cans of the Barrel-Aged Darca-Doo. A two-pint can followed me home – I just couldn’t say goodbye too quickly. I have plans to spend time with it on Thanksgiving weekend.


“Chapter 4 Class and Type Designation.” Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, U.S. Department of the Treasury. Web. 19 November 2015.

“Beer Styles: Barrel-Aged Beer.” Craft Beer Celebrating the Best of American Beer. Web. 19 November 2015.

Nachel, Marty, and Ettinger, Steve. “Creating New Beer Flavors with Old Beer Barrels.” For Dummies. Web. 19 November 2015.

Johnson, Martin. “Barrel-Aged Beer Is Making a Comeback.” The Wall Street Journal. 18 August 2014. Web. 19 November 2015.

Kinney Creek Brewery. Web. 19 November 2015.

“Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout.” New Holland Brewing. Web. 19 November 2015.

Isle of Arran Distillers. Web. 19 November 2015.

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