News

Barrel-aged beer

Swell bottle and half

This month's newsletter included the regular insight from directors, Kate and Alex - this time it's all about barrel-aged beer - in collaboration with sister company, Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery. 

"As many of you will already know, back in February we released our very first barrel-aged beer, Swell, in collaboration with the guys over at Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery.

Barrel-aged beer is beer that has been aged (sorry to state the obvious here!) for a period of time in a wooden barrel. Typically, these barrels will be ex bourbon, whisky or wine with the odd sherry, brandy and port barrel used every now and again. 

It’s a process that has been quite well known about in the USA for the last few years but due to the more limited availability of barrels here in the UK, it’s been slower to the market here.

Historically of course, when beer was first produced, it would have been stored in wooden barrels and indeed brewed using wooden vessels, as this was the cheapest and most readily available material at the time. However, the main difference here would have been that these barrels were ‘new’ (in that they hadn’t contained any liquid previously) so the flavour of the beer would only have been impacted by the wood used to make the barrel. 

The main draw for barrel-ageing beer in pre-used bourbon/whisky/wine casks now is that some of the spirit or liquid that was previously in the barrel will have been absorbed by the wood. So when the barrel is then filled with beer, these flavours are drawn out and mixed with the beer to impart a wonderful new taste.  

With the emergence of more UK based distilleries (not just Scottish ones) the availability of barrels has become much wider so it seemed a logical step for us to work with our very own sister distillery to create our own! 

Swell is the first of our barrel-aged beers (within our ‘Ebb & Flow’ range) and for this initial beer we went quite traditional in the process. Up here at Wold Top, our brew team created a new, dark, rich beer at 10% ABV specifically for this purpose. Whilst that fermented, Joe, Whisky Director at Spirit of Yorkshire, sourced the barrels. These were a combination of bourbon, sherry and wine casks that had previously held their Distillery Projects 003 release. 

Once the beer was fermented, we then transferred it into these casks and they were stored in our warehouse for the next 11 months. During this time the beer absorbed and took on flavours from the casks, as well as gaining a little alcoholic strength too! 

When we came to bottle it, all the casks were mixed together in a larger bottling tank, and then it was filtered and packaged. The final ABV is 12%! 

Our next Ebb & Flow beer is currently maturing and developing in barrels as we write. This time we’re experimenting with a lighter beer (both in colour and ABV) to see how the flavours develop and hold up. We’re looking to release this early 2021 so keep an eye out! 

In the meantime, Swell is available to buy from selected retailers throughout Yorkshire and online here.

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