11.1% ABV | Barrel Aged Barley Wine | 375ml | Siren Craft Brew | Berkshire, England
Of all of the techniques and tools available in a brewer’s deck, barrel aging absolutely has to be one of their favorite cards to play. Barrel aging is the current darling of the modern craft brewing age, and it’s easy to see why – it’s an (almost) sure-fire way to add a layer of sophistication to (almost) any beer.
Why almost? Well, there are some caveats to this whole barrel-aging thing. The process certainly amounts to more than throwing some beer into a barrel and waiting a while as you hope for the best: for one, the whole process can go a bit rouge. Most barrels are home to an entire menagerie of micro-fauna that, if left unchecked, can completely derail the intentions a brewer had for a beer by imparting some very unique flavors that quickly take the forefront. In fact, sometimes their presence is welcomed, or even coveted, but we’ll save that topic for another day.
The other big aspect of barrel aging is selecting exactly which barrel will be utilized for the process. Any number of second-run barrels (that is, a barrel that was used in the fermenting/production of another wine or spirit) can have a huge impact on the flavor of the innate beer. Do we go with the elegant richness lent to us by a cabernet barrel? Or the sweet woodiness of a bourbon barrel? Maybe a combination of both?
That latter question is a favorite for breweries like Siren of Wokingham to puzzle out. For the 2014 edition of their Maiden – the beloved and renowned 2nd edition of their Anniversary series – Siren teamed up with local craft distillery, East London Liquor Company, to determine the journey their base beer would take on its way to become Maiden 2014. And what a road it was.
Maiden started its life as an American-style (read: very, very hoppy) Barley Wine before dispersing across a very diverse collection of barrels in different quantities. Before achieving its final identity, Maiden took a stint in red wine, Sauternes (French sweet wine), Banyuls (another dessert wine), and whiskey barrels, all lending their own unique flavor profiles to a very unique beer experience. This crooked road means that the immense hop profile has eased up a bit, and a whole new host of flavors have found their way in.
After the barrels are selected, the waiting is done, and the beer ready to experience, a bit is left over – roughly 10%, according to the brewers – to become Maiden 2015. The rest, however, becomes a sophisticated, complex and intriguing beer (of which only a scant 5,000 bottles even exist), and you’re lucky enough to be experiencing one.
Enjoy the power of the barrel.