All of our favorite beverages are created from the same scientific process: fermentation. Whether it’s fermenting grapes for wine or malt and hops for beer, we find it fascinating! The coolest part is when there is a crossover between the two, adding nuance and intrigue to the final product.
These days, many mass-produced beers are fermented in large tanks, mostly for size and scalability reasons. They can be easily temperature-controlled and allow for a lot of consistency throughout the process. However, many craft breweries get creative with their fermentation vessels and use barrels.
They can use simple oak barrels which have their own flavor profile, or they can use barrels that have been used for other fermentations, like wine barrels. What happens is that the flavors from the wine that was previously in there seep into the new alcoholic liquid, leaving their own impression on the overall taste. The barrels themselves also allow for an influence from the outside gasses which also have an effect on the flavor profile.
Not all beers are created equally and therefore not all of them can hold up to the distinctive result of wine-barrel aging. This technique is most common with the Belgian sour-style ale which lends itself to the effects of wine barrel aging, partially because of the bacterias that live in the barrel itself. Sure, this sounds weird, but when you look at the science of fermentation and alcohol production, it stems from bacteria. The wine-aged barrels naturally contain more of the bacteria and yeast which contribute to the acidic and sour beer styles.
Aging beer in bourbon or whiskey barrels has become extremely popular in recent years, especially for Stouts and Porters, as the strong vanilla, caramel, and woody flavors are very popular for the dark beer profile. Wine barrel-aged beers are harder to come by but they are very worth the search.
There is a unique quality to these sour-style ales that isn’t for everyone. They’re tart and acidic, and sometimes even tannic depending on the wine that was previously in that oak barrel. If you’re into that sort of thing, we highly recommend searching your local beer shop and giving it a try!
What’s better than great wine and artisanal pizza?
The New York Times described Ridge Monte Bello as “America’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon.”
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