The holidays are more than just capitalism, candy canes and pine needles; it’s also the time of year when many Oregon breweries release their finest elixirs from their barrels as gifts and winter warmers. Here are ten of our favorite new Oregon barrel-aged beers released in bottles in time for the holidays. They’re suitable to drink now, or you can start building up your beer cellar by laying them down for a while.
pFriem Family Brewers: Cognac Barrel-aged Belgian-style Strong Dark
The latest addition to the pFriem Family Brewers barrel-aged beer series–which is now becoming quite impressive–is a rare cognac barrel-aged version of one of the brewery’s strongest beers. The Belgian-style dark ale has been a great ode to beers like Trappist Rochefort 10 and St. Bernardus Abt. 12, and a year ago the brewers filled some cognac casks with it. Just now released in 500ml caged and corked bottles and draft, these beauties will likely disappear quick. Look for aromas of sweet boozy cognac, dried dates, brown sugar, and notes of toffee, plum, sherry, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg on the palate, with a finishing kiss of warm cherry. 10.3% ABV and 38 IBUs!
Ex Novo Brewing: Kill the Sun
Portland’s non-profit brewpub, Ex Novo, released “Kill the Sun” Imperial Stout aged in Heaven Hills bourbon barrels yesterday. I haven’t tried it yet, but the brewery says it showcases lots of bourbon, American oak, vanilla, toasted marshmallow, coconut, and big dark ripe fruits like plum, cherry, fig, date, etc. The final bottled version is a 60% – 40% barrel aged to fresh imperial stout blend. The fresh portion was boozier with more hop character. Also, it’s said to have soft smokey notes and espresso bitterness and sweetness. It clocks in at 12.5% ABV, 75 IBU, and is available now in 500ml wax dipped bottles at the brewpub and around town.
Culmination Brewing: Multnomah County Stout
This cleverly named (recalling Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout) from Portland’s Best New Brewery of 2016 has all the makings of a new annual classic. Similar to the famous GI brand, this is a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial stout aged in Dickel whiskey barrels. The base beer also has chocolate and is a smoother, silkier product, even at 11.5% ABV. 22oz bottles are extremely limited and can be found at the brewery or select bottleshops around Portland for a limited time.
Breakside Brewery: Fourth Wave
Though it’s a barrel-aged coffee beer, Fourth Wave is not a stout. It’s a bourbon barrel-aged version of Breakside’s Vienna Coffee Beer. The base is light bodied but malty like a Vienna lager that serves as a nice base for the nutty and chocolaty coffee from Stumptown Roasters. This special version spent 11 months in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels and uses a different variety, a Costa Rican coffee called Montes de Oro. It is also very nutty but has a rich chocolate overtone complimented by the spicy boozy bourbon barrel and oak vanilla tannins. 22oz bottles available at both Breakside Brewery locations and bottleshops.
Upright Brewing: Oregon Native
Perhaps the most different beer on this list is actually from earlier this year. Upright Brewing’s Oregon Native is actually fermented and aged in both wine barrels from Portland’s Fausse Piste and Patton Valley in Gaston, Oregon with Pinot Noir grapes. The beer marries Pinot wine character with farmhouse wild ale in a collaboration with Derek Einberger, winemaker at Patton Valley Vineyards. The idea was to highlight the grape varietal and make a pinot beer, not simply a grape beer. No yeast or bacteria was added, just the natural ones present on the whole wine grapes added to the barrel. 750ml bottles of Oregon Native is 7.75% ABV and should age nicely; bottles are still available at the brewery tasting room and some bottle shops. Brewed on September 21st, 2014, bottled September 24th, 2015, and released June 2nd, 2016.
Ecliptic Brewing: Barrel-Aged Orange Giant Barleywine
Brewmaster/owner John Harris shows off his 20+ years of barrel-aging experience in one of the best new barleywines to be released in years in the Bourbon Barrel-aged version of Orange Giant Barleywine. Now in its 3rd annual iteration, BA Orange Giant has already become one of Ecliptic Brewing’s most award-winning beers. Three malts and loads of Chinook and Nugget hops lend this beer its chewy, creamy malt body and resinous and bitter hop character. This cask-aged edition spent ten months in a 12-year bourbon barrel that gives it strong bourbon spice, vanilla, coconut and oak flavors. 12.8% ABV, available for a very limited time in 22oz bottles.
Worthy Brewing: Barrel-Aged Dark Muse Imperial Stout
Hailing from Bend, Worthy Brewing has bottled up only 60 cases of their 2014 vintage Dark Muse Imperial Stout aged in Wild Turkey whiskey barrels, hand dipped in gold waxed 22oz bottles. It’s actually a 60-40 blend of barrel-aged Dark Muse with fresh Dark Muse to brighten it up. Only 30 of the 60 cases went to distributors in Oregon, 15 in Washington, and another 15 at the pub in Bend. It’s 11.3% ABV and 60 IBUs ,and the brewery says it will age well.
Pelican Brewing: Mother of All Storms
A modern day classic, Pelican’s acclaimed and sought after annual barrel-aged barleywine is an exercise in tasty perfection. As much as Ecliptic’s Orange Giant is a perfect example of American barleywine, Pelican’s is as perfect example of an English-style barleywine. It’s not as overtly hoppy, but makes up for it with more depth of malt character and fruity esters and phenolics.
Based on Stormwatcher’s Winterfest, Mother of all Storms spends a year aging in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Now at its peak, Mother of all Storms delivers deep flavors of toasted malt, bourbon and oak. The finish rewards with whispers of vanilla, toffee and caramel. This beer is hard to find and share-worthy at 14% ABV and 40 IBUs.
Baerlic Brewing: Dinosaur Head
Another alternative to the big, boozy imperial stouts and barleywines that mostly make up this list is Baerlic Brewing’s Dinosaur Head, a mixed fermentation Belgian pale aged on pluots. It’s only 6.7% ABV and was aged in French oak for 24 months, and should hold up thanks to the multiple strains of wild yeast. Yes, it’s sour after the yeast and bacteria ate those pluots and made homes in the barrels, but also has nice a rustic and earthy farmhouse yeast character. Available at the Portland brewery and select bottleshops in a limited run of 500ml bottles.
Full Sail Brewing: Bourbon Imperial Stout
The beer formerly known as Black Gold–brewed since 1998, it’s the father of all Oregon barrel-aged stouts–has returned for its every other year release. Brewed in November 2015, this imperial stout was aged in Wild Turkey bourbon casks from Kentucky until the robust character of the stout picked up the perfect amount of wood, bourbon, and oak flavors. Full Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout is available in limited release in 22 oz. bottles and draft. 9.5% ABV, 40 IBUs.