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Why the predominance of bourbon barrels for barrel aging?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by IamMe90, Feb 17, 2013.

  1. I was just wondering if there was a specific reason or historical factor that led to bourbon barrels being used to prominently for barrel aging. I mean, I love (like, love) BBA stouts and barleywines so I don't have a problem with it. But, for example, I like scotch better than bourbon (from my very limited whiskey experiences). So why don't we see many beers aged in scotch barrels? Just curious, thanks.
  2. JohnQVD

    JohnQVD Savant (385) New York Jan 23, 2011

    Bourbon has to be aged in new barrels every time. That's one of the rules of making bourbon. In fact used bourbon barrels are used to age scotch (for example, Laphroaig is aged in used Maker's Mark barrels). So, because, unlike scotch, bourbon barrels have to be new each time, used barrels are available. It's also good, but I strongly suspect that brewers started experimenting with bourbon barrels because they could get them, and they tend to do larger volume batches with them for the same reason.
  3. Bourbon is the American Whiskey so more barrels available here.
    Eriktheipaman likes this.
  4. Buck86

    Buck86 Savant (375) California Aug 8, 2011 Beer Trader

    In my experience , I have come to dislike, or rather distrust, "Whiskey barrel" aged beers due to the fact that by definition the barrels are reused where bourbon barrels can only be used once. So in my mind a whiskey barrel's attributes may have been leached out several times over due to repeat usage in the spirit making process. A bourbon barrel can only be used once so it imparts strong bourbon (though equal to other spirits) flavor but also donates a more complete portion of the barrel's assets to the beer. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Case in point most recently would be Firestone Abacus vs "Barrel Aged" bigfoot. Both are exceptional beers and will vary due to the base brew but the Abacus for me has a sweeter/vanilla/oak finish compared to bigfoot's more bitter and whiskey finish. There are pro's to both, where I prefer the bourbon flavor and sweetness, the whiskey barrels don't transform the beer as much which lets the base brew shine a little more. Long story short, I like bourbon and you should try both and drink what you like (or both).
  5. a few breweries did exceptionally well with it, making excellent beers. many other brewers decided to try and follow suit - with varying degrees of success. seeing as the barrels are relatively easy to come by, it must seem as though it's at least worth a try.
  6. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    brewers who use "whiskey barrel" may or may not be using a newly-emptied bourbon barrel. sometimes it's simply the whim of the brewer how they want to label or market the beer. in any case, ALL american whiskey (bourbon, rye, tennessee, etc), with the sole exception of corn whiskey (80% or more maize used in the mash), must be aged in new charred barrels in order to even be labeled as "whiskey".
  7. drtth

    drtth Poobah (1,205) Pennsylvania Nov 25, 2007

    What would change with multiple whiskey agings in the same barrel are the characteristics contributed by the oak. The whiskey contribution would be equally strong each time because roughly equal amounts of whiskey would be retained by the wood as the barrel is emptied. However, when the barrel is used multiple times for aging whisky it is usually the case that it is recharred so that at least some, if not all, of the "exhausted" surface is burnt away leaving behind access to relatively fresh oak. So in the long run there could still be both whiskey and oak character contributed to the beer depending on how it has been treated before the brewer gets it.

    The strength of the bourbon contribution is more likely to be a result of how well emptied the barrel was, etc. After they pour all the bourbon out at the distillery, there is still some whiskey retained absorbed into the wood, etc. Some disteilleries will not sell an emptied barrel to local fraternties of groups of young adult males because those guys have lerned that one can pour a limited amount of water into the barrel, close the bung hole, roll the barrel around, etc. and then pour out some reasonably strong bourbon and branch from the barrel.
    Etan likes this.
  8. smakawhat

    smakawhat Poobah (1,310) Maryland Mar 18, 2008 Subscriber

    Bourbon is in a bit of a renaissance (in my opinion) these days, and some points have been made that already state the fact. Spent bourbon barrels get re-used to brewers, Irish Whiskey (Jameson) is an example.

    Boubon barrels are somewhat plentiful, and they get re-used by breweries, other distilleries, to everything from being turned even into furniture.

    Where is Scotch made... 3200 miles on the other side of Atlantic... what is easier to acquire for a domestic US manufacturer? barrels from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace?... or barrels from Johnnie Walker, Laphroaig, et al??
    Eriktheipaman likes this.
  9. using a whiskey or a bourbon barrel will give a dramatically different final result
  10. Boilerfood

    Boilerfood Savant (445) Indiana Jun 5, 2012

    I think the similarity of ingredients and flavors play into this as well. I would love for more rum barrel aged offerings though.
    terrapinfan88 likes this.
  11. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    the fundamental bottleneck in supply is simply the fact that only american whiskies must by law be aged in new charred oak barrels. all producers of other spirits can reuse their barrels an infinite amount of times, and will indeed often use them until they are simply falling apart. you will not find many scotch, rum or tequila producers willing to give up their barrels because they largely ALREADY BOUGHT THEM VIA CONTRACT BEFORE THEY EVEN HELD BOURBON.

  12. CellarGimp

    CellarGimp Advocate (510) Missouri Sep 14, 2011

    Shit tastes good.
  13. smakawhat

    smakawhat Poobah (1,310) Maryland Mar 18, 2008 Subscriber

    agreed, but the point I am making for the original poster is what is easier to acquire for a domestic brewer to use?

    a barrel that comes from Kentucky, or other US state from a bourbon, or a Scotch barrel from 3200 miles away? Seems like a no brainer to me.

    So when you look at Innis And Gunn they have Scotch barrel aged beers, probably out of convenience and ease of use.

    What about this (ooo!! I got a bottle and can't wait to try). (no it's not a stout)


    The point I am getting at, is the answer to the original posters question is probably cost.. in my opinion. Also someone just pointed out about acquisition...

    Also here's a heads up for the original poster, here is a Scotch barrel aged brew I saw recently seek it out if that's your thing.


  14. FatBoyGotSwagger

    FatBoyGotSwagger Champion (955) Pennsylvania Apr 4, 2009 Beer Trader

    Yup This.
    smakawhat likes this.
  15. agreed - when it's all said and done though, i tend to prefer the bourbon barrel aging over whiskey. dramatically different flavor profiles. i have yet to have a beer aged in whiskey barrels that has wowed me (in fact, many have been lackluster)
  16. I am sure that is part of it but proximity is also a part, Ola Dubh is in Scotch Barrels and as a UK brewer that makes sense.
  17. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    see my post above

    innis & gunn was only using american bourbon barrels until recently (only 2 or 3 years?) for its new line of specific barrel treatments.
  18. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    yes, proximity is a part. i never denied that. but until very recently not many UK beers were barrel aged begin with. the ones (like harviestoun's ola dubh) which did use scotch barrels obviously made an arrangement that was helped along by proximity and no need for additional importation. but others, like fullers and innis & gunn, were using bourbon barrels. and again, even then, it likely started out as an arrangement with a scotch producer that already owned a massive number of barrels coming in from the USA.
  19. Have you ever put scotch in a stout? Its terrible...
  20. Nectar

    Nectar Savant (310) New Jersey Jan 17, 2013

    This thread has really taught me a lot, and is a welcome change from the typical threads we've seen lately. OP- thank you. Also thanks to everyone sharing knowledge.

    Carry on.
    IamMe90 likes this.
  21. Nectar

    Nectar Savant (310) New Jersey Jan 17, 2013

    I hope you didnt waste a good scotch, but thats for another forum
    gpawned likes this.
  22. I've experimented with a few drops of bourbon, few drops of scotch here and there. I put Balvenie Double Wood in an Old Rasputin the other night, wasn't terrible but I could see how aging in a scotch barrel would be a bad idea.
  23. Mothergoose03

    Mothergoose03 Champion (875) Michigan May 30, 2005 Subscriber

    Besides the relative freshness and availability of the bourbon barrels I think the popularity of the taste derived from the bourbon barrel aging is more accepted by the consumer, thus the demand is created for the brewer (although the tail wagged the dog to start with).

    I've had beers aged in rum and brandy barrels, and some in "whiskey" barrels that are not specifically stated to be bourbon barrels, and hands down the bourbon flavor is more desirable to me as a match for the beer's malt flavors. And I don't think I am alone.
  24. Being very familiar with the world of Bourbon, Scotch and beer, you offer a very factual explanation. Well done.
  25. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    could you name some of these "whiskey" BA beers you consider lackluster? as drtth and i have alluded to, there is a lot of variability as to how barrels are treated before filling with beer and also brewer preferences on how to label/market a beer that for all intents and purposes could still be called "bourbon barrel aged" but chose not to.
  26. It probably is if you don't like the taste of scotch. Unlike bourbon, scotch isn't sweet or strongly oaky; it tastes like whisky. If you don't like that flavor, sure, it's not going to be good in your beer.

    Scotch is too expensive and the flavors are too subtle to be wasted going into beer. You might as well just use a blended canadian whisky.
  27. Local availability plus preference for bourbon barrel flavor in American beers = predominance of bourbon barrel aging.

    If you look around the big wine areas of the country you'll see a lot of wine barrels put to use, albeit often in beers other than stouts. Where there are craft distillers of non-whisky products you'll find barrels of rum, tequila, etc. being put to use in beer.
  28. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    huh? there are many beers aged in scotch barrels, and some are quite good. meanwhile i think BA BORIS is at least as good or better than BORIS Royale (crown royal barrels).

    the "preference" is kind of a chicken/egg paradox. since most bbl-aged beers are bourbon barrel, those are the flavors that most people associate with "good" barrel aging.
  29. Scotch and scotch barrels are not the same thing.
  30. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    ah, my fault. just realized you were discussing the "dousing" method. that said, the method is often misapplied by most. for a 12oz serving of beer, one shouldn't add more than 3 or 4 tiny drops of spirit.
  31. vacax

    vacax Advocate (675) California Jun 3, 2008 Beer Trader

    The peat qualities from a scotch barrel tend to give an overly phenolic medicinal character rather than the smokey one you would want. I have yet to have a good beer aged in a scotch barrel. It is possible but I wouldn't do it. Especially considering you have to bring in the barrel from overseas it is a waste of time.
    TallSaint likes this.
  32. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    vast majority of scotch barrels are from unpeated or minimally peated malts
  33. vacax

    vacax Advocate (675) California Jun 3, 2008 Beer Trader

    Fair enough, but then I don't see the point of using them. Most scotches also use spent bourbon barrels. Why even bother if we can just use the bourbon barrels to begin with?
    TallSaint likes this.
  34. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    perhaps some people like certain scotch whisky characteristics, but w/o the heavy vanilla and corn sweetness that bourbon often gives. to each their own...
    gpawned likes this.
  35. hoptualBrew

    hoptualBrew Advocate (630) Florida May 29, 2011 Beer Trader

    That Fraoch Vintage Cask was freakibg unreal! One of the most amazing and unique beers I've ever had.
  36. hoptualBrew

    hoptualBrew Advocate (630) Florida May 29, 2011 Beer Trader

    To the OP, having tasted both BBA & SBA beers and various Bourbons & Scotch whisky I would say it would be harder and less pleasing to age American style beers in Scotch barrels. Vanilla, coconut, oak fit a lot easier into American brews than phenolic, heather, peat, bandaid, heather, honey do.. at least by my logic.

    The majority of the reason is probably economical as well. And no, cannot say that I've ever read or heard of beer being aged purposely in whiskey barrels before the 90's rolled around less than two decades ago.
  37. smakawhat

    smakawhat Poobah (1,310) Maryland Mar 18, 2008 Subscriber

    I dug it too, saw your review also, just had it... very enjoyable. review added.
  38. Johnny Walker is a blend. They take the single malts from a number of distillers and mix them to fit their desired taste. Johnny Walker does not produce their own Whisky - think of them as an intermediary.
  39. smakawhat

    smakawhat Poobah (1,310) Maryland Mar 18, 2008 Subscriber

    It's just an example... by no means am I a Scotch expert ;) had to throw out a familiar name...
  40. tai4ji2x

    tai4ji2x Advocate (665) Massachusetts Aug 10, 2007 Beer Trader

    or a gueuze blender :)