Beer and barrels – top tips from Imbibe Live

09 July 2018

While barrel fermentation and barrel ageing are par for the course in the drinks trade, these practices aren’t widespread when it comes to beer. That’s starting to change though, and as attendees to Jonny Garrett’s Both Barrels presentation at Imbibe Live this year discovered first hand, they’re well worth seeking out.

Garrett is head of marketing for Cave Direct Beer Merchants and is also behind the Craft Beer Channel on YouTube. He also happens to be a specialist in all things Belgian and fermented, which made him the perfect guide for this tour of lambics, oud bruins and more. As he guided the audience through four remarkable beers from around the world, he provided plenty of tips for operators looking to offer these unusual, complex beers.

They’re great for low-volume venues

As a result of their tendency to improve in the bottle, beers such as the Lindemans Cuvée Renée, an oude gueuze lambic beer are ‘a very safe bet to buy for restaurants that might not do too much volume’, explained Garrett.

They’re food friendly

The complex, often sour flavour profiles of these styles of beer open up their potential when it comes to matching with an array of dishes. The Verzet Oud Bruin, made in a style specific to Flanders, was packed with sour fruit and balsamic notes that would pair perfectly with duck or beef, according to Garrett.

Oxidation can make beers more approachable

‘Oxidation in the barrel actually thins out a beer,’ Garrett explained, using bourbon barrel aged Widmer Brrrbon as an example. ‘It feels light, with some caramel notes, and the oak only hits at the end, so it’s easier to drink,’ he added.

Different beers should be aged differently

Brewers of these styles, and lambics in particular, all have strong opinions about the correct method to age their beers, such as whether to store bottles upright or on their sides. It’s best to get the official line from the brewer, or your distributor, before filling your cellar.

The beers

Lindemans Cuvée Renée Oude Gueuze Blend 2018, 6.5% abv, £27.23/12x375ml

Like all lambics, this is spontaneously fermented, with microorganisms like lactobacillus and brettanomyces contributing to the beer’s farmyard, scrumpy-like flavour profile. Gueuzes like this one are a blend of one, two and three year old lambics.

Verzet Oud Bruin, 6% abv, £45.53/12x330ml

Beer aged in red wine barrels for 18 months is blended with a nine-month old beer to produce Verzet Oud Bruin, which has a kriek-like character, with caramel, raspberries, cherries and a balsamic note.

Widmer Brothers, Barrel Aged Brrrbon ‘12, 7.4% abv, £48.75/24x330ml

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Brrrbon spends four months in bourbon barrels, and has had a significant amount of time in bottle too. The result is a beer with some distinct vanilla notes, and some soft tannins too.

The Wild Beer Co, Smoke & Barrels Autumn, 6% abv, £73.76/12x750ml

Accurately described by Garrett as ‘the biggest, weirdest beer of the day’, the smoked malt used by Somerset’s Wild Beer Co makes its presence felt, but so does the fresh-pressed apple juice that’s added to it. As the label says, ‘Bonfires + Apples + Toffee’.

All four beers are available from Cave Direct Beer Merchants

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