On Saturday, November 14, 2009 we made a short journey to Hayward, California to attend the 4th Annual Barrel-Aged Beer Fest, which is organized by The Bistro. When we arrived, we encountered 65 wood barrel-aged beers from about 30 different breweries, all available for tasting form the souvenir tulip-shaped glass. The tasting was $40 and included said glass, a very detailed listing of the beers available, and 10 tasting tickets, additional tickets were available to $2 each but I didn’t need more.
This beer festival featured some of the most interesting beers, in a wide variety of “styles,” from breweries all across the nation, all with two common themes: wood barrel-aged and high alcohol content. Although most were West Coast based breweries other breweries from other parts of the country and the world were there, such as Avery (Colorado), Allagash (Maine), Dogfish Head (Delaware), and Rodenbach (Belgium).
The festival itself, on average, wasn’t terribly crowded. I only had a little bit of trouble getting around when I first arrived but within 20 minutes the number people around was manageable. The people attending the festival and serving the beer all were very interested in beer and all seemed to be enjoying the beer being sampled at this event.
There were no two beers that produced a similar tasting experience, each beer was very unique, interesting, and well crafted. This would be no surprise when inspecting the beer list and the details of each beer. The “styles” ranged from barleywine, imperial stout, Belgian-style strong dark ale, Scotch ale, doppelbock, Flemish red, IPA, fruit beers, and many were blends of everything in between or experimental styles crafted very well. I’m using “style” in quotes because it seems like by-the-book styles were thrown out the window in favor of creating something very interesting and delicious with a complexity of flavor and aroma. Next, the alcohol content by volume ranged from 6% at the lowest all the way up to 13% for the strongest, with the median being around 9%. On top of that, add the diversity of barrels used to age the beer: bourbon barrels from a variety of makers, wine barrels from various styles of wine, brandy barrels, neutral barrels, and toasted oak barrels. Finally, each beer was aged for different amounts of time with the shortest for 2 months and the longest for 2½ years.
With 65 very interesting beers available, it was difficult to figure out what to try so after my first beer I talked to one of the servers and I also ran into the future owners of 510 Brewing Company and Peter from BetterBeerBlog, all of whom had some great suggestions. The following are some brief notes about the beers that I tried at the event.
Interlude by Allagash. Aroma of green apples and a malty sweet flavor with a hint of sour. This 9.5% abv beer was aged in French Merlot and Syrah oak barrels for 12 months. It was fermented with a Belgian farmhouse yeast and Brettanomyces.
Voltron by Avery. Roasty, sour, rich, dark malty sweet aroma and flavor with some woody notes. Voltron is a blend of 5 different small-batch 12 month barrel-aged beers including 2 Chardonnary barrels, 2 Port barrels, and 1 Carbernet barrel. This beer was fermented to 9% by several strains of yeast: 2 Brettanomyces strains and several strains of lactobacillus and pediococcus.
Clobberskull by Bear Republic. Clove honey aroma and flavor. This 10.5% ale was made with 10% raw wheat and 10% split peas and aged for 100 days in Medium Toast French Oak Cabernet barrels.
Imperial Porter by Black Diamond. A medium bodied beer that reminded me of brownie chocolate and roasted coffee beans. This 9% beer was made with Scharffenberger chocolcate cacao nibs and vanilla beans and aged in Tenzing bourbon barrels.
Imperial Eclipse Stout 2008 by Fifty Fifty. This stout was like liquid dark chocolate with a a roasty nature like cacao nibs. A 2008 GABF bronze winner, this 9.5% abv beer was aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon barrels for 1 year.
Cruisin’ with Ruben & the Bretts on Cherries by Lagunitas. Aroma and tasty of dark and sour cherries with a dark malty sweetness and a hint of dill spice. The was by far the strongest beer at the festival at 13%. The beer listing had the following description of this beer:
Ruben and the Jets was an Imperial Stout, yeast dropped and aged in stainless on Criollo Peruvian cacao nibs, then into [Heaven’s Hill] Bourbon barrel for 6 months, Brettanomyces claussenii added to the barrel for 3 additional months, then Sonoma County cherries offered as a snack to the yeast for another 3 months.
Black Pearl by Maui Brewing. Roasty, coffee/espresso, woody, a little smoky, slightly malty sweet. A 6.5% abv beer that was aged in Jim Beam American Oak barrels.
Wet Hopsicle 2009 by Moylans. Hoppy, bitter, and a delightful experience of hops. At 9.2% abv, this beer was aaged in Girad Chardonnay Medium Toast French Oak.
Old Woody 2006 by Schooners Grille. Malty with an aroma of candied orange peels and a little bit boozy. This beer is 10.5% abv and was made with whiskey soaked oak chips and then added to a neutral oak cask.
Scotch on Scotch by Sierra Nevada. Had flavors and aromas of caramel, Almond Joy, and syrupy-malty Scotch ale. Scotch on Scotch is 9.4% abv and was aged in Glengoyne Scotch barrels for 7 months.
For another recap of this great beer festival read these blog posingst:
- BetterBeerBlog – 2009 4th Annual Barrel-Aged Beerfest Recap.
- K.M. Waever Hop Press – Tipsy Coverage of The Bistro’s Barrel Aged Festival 2009