What happens in a barrel? Generally speaking, the beers we fill barrels with are already finished with their primary fermentations. This means that the yeast has gone about its usual business in one of our conical fermentors, and instead of being packaged in a bottle or keg, we transfer the beer into a barrel. Here it sits for months, sometimes years, and takes on a completely new profile. At Adelbert’s, we utilize different types of barrels for different beers.
We have friends at Treaty Oak Distilling Co., who have been kind enough to share their spent barrels with us. We’ve aged Philosophizer, our Saison, in Gin barrels, our Tripel in Rum barrels, and our seasonal stout, Barrel of Love in bourbon barrels. These beers sit for around six months, absorbing the flavors of the spirit, along with notes of oak.
Red wine barrels
In the barrel, “bugs,” or the bacterias Pediococcus and Lactobacillus slowly work their way into the beer, giving it tart, sour notes. A rampant type of yeast called Brettanomyces also makes its way into the beer, sometimes metabolizing even sugars from the barrel itself. As it tears through fermentables, it also produces a range of flavors, sometimes reminiscent of a barnyard, or horse-blanket. In the wine world, people do what they can to avoid these “bugs,” but we do what we can to make them feel welcome. By brewing beers with lower IBUs, we can cultivate environments for these bugs to flourish and thrive.
We have conducted a few spontaneous fermentations as well. This means we take fresh wort, and instead of pitching yeast into it, we let it sit out overnight in a barrel, then close it up for two years. Over the two years, the wild yeasts from the air and barrel slowly grow into colonies and ferment the beer. The result is a plethora of flavors, a wild beer. Where the average beer is a showcase of one or two strains of yeast, these wild beers can have far more yeasts and bacterias at play.
Barrels are an old tradition. Beers were fermented in barrels long before stainless steel fermenters were around, and they remain because they offer flavors and a
mysticism that can’t be achieved any other way. In a sense, barrels are both a thing of the past and of the future, and at Adelbert’s we’re thrilled to use them in the present.