Let’s continue our foray into National Bourbon Heritage Month with a tasty tour of bourbon-barrel-aged beers! While the tradition of aging beer in barrels is centuries-old, it wasn’t until the 1990s that bourbon-barrel-aged beers cropped up in the United States. To celebrate, we’ve highlighted four exemplary barrel-aged brews for you to seek out!
If you like dark beers, then Grand Rapids, MI’s Founders Brewing Co. is the brewery for you. And for Founders KBS—their original bourbon-barrel-aged beer—you may want to bring a knife and fork, because this is a full-bodied brew.
First poured in 2003, the “Kentucky Breakfast Stout” is loaded with chocolate and coffee, with notes of sweet vanilla, sharp bourbon, and charred oak. Silky smooth and roasty, it clocks in at a whopping 12% ABV and 70 IBUs.
Slightly southwest in Holland, MI, is the appropriately named New Holland Brewing Company, known for their hearty dark beers. Perhaps most famous for their Dragon’s Milk bourbon-barrel-aged series, their 2021 Dragon’s Milk Reserve has been double-barrel-aged—first, for three months with Madagascar vanilla beans; and for three months with Indonesian vanilla beans in barrel #2.
The result? An incredibly smooth, sweet, and slightly boozy 12.3% ABV stout.
What’s that? You wanted more from Founders? Well, look no further than the smell of Edinburgh in the morning: Backwoods Bastard, an 11% ABV/50 IBU Scotch ale.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a highly malty (read: soul-warming) beer. Aromatically, you can expect rich, warm notes of single-malt Scotch and oaky bourbon, carrying over into full flavors of sweet caramel, earthy fruits, and the slightest smoky finish. Incredibly smooth and sultry, Backwoods Bastard dances on your tongue as you savor every sip.
Belgian-style beers in bourbon barrels?! While certainly atypical, that’s exactly what Kansas City, MO’s Boulevard Brewing Co. did with this last beer: the Bourbon Barrel Quad. At 12.2% ABV but only 26 IBUs, this Belgian quadruple is aged in several oak barrels for varying lengths, with some up to three years!
Cherries are added to account for the “angel’s share” that is naturally lost during the aging process. Caramel in color with a sweet, subtle aroma, you’ll likely pick up flavor notes of toffee, brown sugar, vanilla, and the slightest hint of cherry.