Imbibe Live: Jonny Garrett is out to prove the magic of barrel-aged beer

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Drinks: Beers
Location: UK

As the head of marketing for Cave Direct and the founder of the Craft Beer Channel on YouTube, Jonny Garrett is an authority on beer – particularly when it comes to the funky stuff. He’s harnessing his profound knowledge of Belgian beer at Imbibe Live, where he’ll be presenting Both Barrels, a deep-dive into the world of barrel-fermented and barrel-aged beers.

Touching on everything from terroir in beer (gasp!) to top tips for cellaring, Garrett’s session will bring you up to speed on this weird and wild category and how to make the most of it. Imbibe got in touch with him ahead of the event to get a feel for what’s going on in the world of barrels and beer.

How is the barrel-fermented, barrel-aged category evolving and innovating?

Despite being a very traditional way of making beer, barrel fermentation and ageing is going to be a huge part of the craft or ‘super-premium’ beer market. What started as passion projects for lots of breweries, inspired by their love of spirits, Belgian farmhouse and lambic brewing has become a great way to excite drinkers who think they have seen it all.

As palates get used to sour and intense flavours, the market has grown quickly. The few random barrels you saw in many breweries have become whole rooms dedicated to wood, and the introduction of on-site laboratories means they understand the processes better and can be more consistent in their quality.

What are the challenges of these beers?

They are exceptionally hard to make consistently as they are not temperature controlled, and the barrels all have their own character.

They can also take a long time to mature, so can clog up space and reduce cash flow. But the sales and marketing opportunities are huge, as well as being extremely exciting for producers and drinkers alike.

What unique elements do barrel-aged and barrel-fermented beers bring to the larger beer category?

Much like natural wine has brought new flavours and expressions to the wine world, wood-aged and wild ales bring all kinds of new and exciting elements to beer through the unusual yeast flavours.

They can include scrumpy cider, lemon and sherbert in wild ales and vanilla, oak and coconut in spirit barrel-aged beer.

Wild beers also add an element of terroir to the beer – flavours that can only be achieved in the area, brewery and barrel that made it.

What aspect of the Both Barrels session are you most excited about?

I love hosting these events because I get to put entirely unexpected flavours in front of people and see their reaction. Some love it, some hate it, but for me, the craft beer revolution has been all about pushing boundaries then filling in the spaces made with new and exciting beer. Every one of these tastings is a chance to prove how magical beer can be.

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