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Three Pint Stance - Beer Meets Wood

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“Beer Meets Wood - A brew fest that will not ‘leaf’ you feeling ‘board.’”

“Beer Meets Wood - A ‘barrel’ of beer-soaked fun!”

“Beer Meets Wood - Beers that could be charged with ‘trees-on.’”

(Editor’s note: Stop it.)

All right, fine.

Anyway, in less than a month, Portland will be awash in beer brewed, aged and somehow influenced by wood.

Beer Meets Wood, a brew festival organized by the East Coast brewfest wizards at BeerAdvocate, is making its debut in Portland on Sept. 23. The festival is being held at the Portland Company on Fore St. and tickets are still available ($55+ Fees) at eventbrite.com.

As of press time, 56 breweries are signed up to pour 206 different beers at the two-session, one day festival. Everything from bourbon barrel-aged stouts to French Oak-aged farmhouse ales will be featured at this festival. It won’t be hard to get your money’s worth at this one! Head over to beeradvocate.com for all the details and such.

Ok, now that the top of our inverse-pyramid is well-built, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

Why wood, you may ask? When a brewer refers to wood, they are usually talking specifically about one of the many variations of oak barrels available in the beverage industry. Given the numerous types of barrel that you can use on top of the millions of different combinations of beer recipes, the flavor possibilities available to the brewer who utilizes barrels is literally endless!

As much as I’d love to bloviate about the wonders of barrel-aged beers, I just don't find myself with the time! With a brewery under construction and a wedding just days away, I am what fellow Mainers would describe as “right out straight.”

So, in the interest of saving time, I refer you to this excerpt from a Three Pint Stance piece from May of last year titled “More fun than a barrel of….beer.”

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If you have looked around at your local bottle shop lately, you have surely noticed the increase in availability and variety of barrel-aged beers. The tradition of aging beer in oak barrels goes back to the origins of the drink itself. Before modern stainless steel tanks and kegs were made available, beers were stored in oak casks, where the product would continue to develop flavor and alcohol. Some of these flavors were desirable, some less so, but many of the more desirable traits are still sought after today in the creation of a variety of traditional and non-traditional barrel aged beer styles.

Sour or not?

If a beer is aged in a barrel, does that make it a sour? While lots of sour and tart beers are indeed oak aged, the process of aging a beer in a barrel does not necessarily lead the beer to become sour. Sour, or tart tasting beers are usually made by introducing wild yeast or bacteria into the beer, so if no wild yeast or bacteria is allowed contact with the beer, the resulting product shouldn’t taste sour, but will instead have lots of rich flavor from the oak barrel.

What kind of beer?

Beers of all types can be barrel-aged, but there are some styles that hold up to it better than others. Most commonly, you will find darker, higher alcohol beers aged in barrels because (1) the strong base flavor will stand up to the intense barrel character that comes from using a whiskey or wine barrel and (2) the alcohol helps to preserve the beer so it won’t have stale flavors from extended aging periods.

Russian Imperial stouts, porters, Scottish Wee Heavy’s and Belgian Quads are all strong beers that are typically aged in barrels. Some lighter styles like Belgian Farmhouse-style saisons can also be aged in barrels, but the desired flavors are usually not derived from the barrel itself, but rather from the addition of wild yeast to create complex tart and sour flavors.

What kind of barrel?

When it comes to buying barrels, most brewmasters prefer to shop in the used section of Barrels R’ Us. Much of the character and aromatic quality that make barrel-aged beers so unique actually come from the liquid that was in the barrel before. While it is not unheard of for a brewer to use a fresh oak barrel, most commonly a used whiskey or wine barrel is preferable. Some breweries are even using rum, tequila and brandy barrels to age their beers!

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