It appears as though Shipyard Brewing Company has decided to try its hand in the increasingly popular trend of aging select beverages in charred-oak bourbon barrels. The practice of utilizing old barrels that have previously been used to age bourbon has become more and more prevalent in the last five years or so (though I can’t say for certain when companies really started doing this). Some brewing companies, like Kentucky Ale, are known almost exclusively for this technique (see Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale), other notables have come onto the scene and begun experimenting with the practice.
Typically, the types of ales that are aged in these bourbon barrels tend to be on the maltier side, like browns, Irish reds, porters, and stouts. As one would expect, there are the classic tasting notes usually associated with the given style chosen to be aged. However, these notes tend to take a backseat to the kick-in-the-face flavor and aroma often found in a bourbon barrel aged beer. When a company chooses to age a brew in bourbon barrels, they are looking to impart some serious bourbon flavor (for better or worse) and you find notes of oak, vanilla, char, and the overall robust and warm alcohol mouthfeel and taste of a good, strong whiskey. Ocassionally, these ales really tend to lose all beer character and take on an exclusively bourbon flavor profile, which for the rare drinker of such spirits can be slightly over-powering. However, if done right, the subtle nuances of nicely aged fine bourbon can really serve to compliment the sweetness and body of a strong, malty beer.
Time will only tell which end of the spectrum into which Shipyard’s latest endeavour will fall. I, for one, am hopeful that their master brewers hope to impart the subtle notes of oak and vanilla into whichever select brews are chosen for this experiment, rather than pushing for a very strong bourbon-forward kick to the face. Call it personal bias, but I just feel as though the brews that end up having an incredibly strong bourbon/alcohol flavor really taste more like the company just dumped a bunch of bourbon straight into the brew and bottled immediately, rather than undertaking the labor-intensive and time-consuming process of really aging the brews in high-quality oak barrels from the finer bourbon distilleries in the country.
Shipyard plans to release small batches of these beers in the coming months, most likely in the 22oz bombers they use for the stronger/slightly more limited release beers like the Pugsley Series (think, Smashed Pumpkin, Smashed Blueberry, Double Old Thumper and the like). More info on this upcoming venture can be found at the link below.