A Guide to Oregon Barrel-Aged Beers for the Holidays

It’s that time of the year when brewers dust off lost barrels from the racks and out of dark corners in the cellar to blend and release these complex, boozy, barrel-aged and expensive creations just in time for the holidays. Not only do these barrel-aged brews make for nice gifts and additions to a beer cellar, they also make for great sippers on cold winter nights. Oregon makes some of the best barrel-aged beers in the world, if not the most hyped, and this year more than a dozen are being released in bottles or cans for the winter.

Breakside Brewery: The Mountains of Instead

Inspired by an Autumn poem by WH Auden, “The Mountains of Instead” is a souped up winter warmer aged in unusual barrels. Breakside took their Fall Apple Ale, a lightly spiced and lightly smoked amber ale and cranked it up, but never added the apples and instead aged it in apple brandy barrels from Clear Creek Distilling. This burnt umber colored, malty and nougaty strong amber is doused with warming, sweet and fruity brandy flavors and spiced with allspice and ginger. The smoke is underneath the beer somewhere like piles of un-raked autumn leaves, the barrel-aging and higher ABV lead to a fuller bodied sipper for cool nights and brisk winds. The Mountains of Instead will be released just this week in 12oz bottles at Breakside’s pubs with a limited amount for distribution. 9.5% ABV and 24 IBUs.

Silver Moon Brewing: Contrarium

Released in two different confusing versions, Silver Moon Brewing’s Contrarium is a Blonde ale fermented with Brettanomyoces wild yeast and aged separately in Chardonnay barrels and Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah wine barrels. The brewers have taken a very simple base of Pilsner malt and wheat to create a light and delicate beer for wild yeast, wine and oak to work it’s magic on. Silver Moon has released Contrarium in bottled 2-packs featuring one version aged in just the white chardonnay barrels and the other version a blend of the red wine barrels. Contrarium showcases flavors of stone fruit, earthy funk, oak and wine tannins and is an approachable 6.5% ABV, available now but only for a limited time

Crux Fermentation Project: Lost Love

A much more limited, single variety barrel-aged Imperial Stout from Crux Fermentation Project was released this year called “Lost Love.” Similar to Crux’s much lauded “Tough Love” bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout, Tough Love is brewed with a grain bill of 10% malted rye and then aged for 10 months in Willett rye whiskey barrels. I believe this was an experimental version and part of a blend for Tough Love that the brewery decided to highlight separately on it’s own without blending. The result is a 14% ABV spicy, boozy, delicious Imperial Stout for rye beer and whiskey lovers that’s only available in bottles at the breweries tasting room in Bend.

Burnside Brewing: Fable

This is the second iteration of Burnside Brewing’s Belgian Flanders-style red inspired ale called Fable. Last year’s release of Fable won a Silver at the Best of Craft Beer Awards and has been a longtime passion project of Brewmaster/Co-owner Jason McAdam. Fable is a select blend of 24 and 8 month old Flanders Red aged in french oak barrels. Notes of cherry and currant meld with the barrels subtle oak and vanilla, and tie together with the styles signature acidity. This is a great intro sour beer and a great holiday ale that will complement a meal with its more moderate, mild sourness and complimentary notes of cherry and vanilla. Just 60 cases of 500ml bottles of Fable are for sale at the brewery at only $10 each.

Upright Brewing: Saison Ellende

Hidden in a basement in North Portland, Upright Brewing quietly makes some of the best sour/mixed-culture beers in the country, let alone Oregon. Saison Ellende is the breweries latest bottle release and it’s a very limited and unique blend of three different barrels: a pinot noir, beaumes de venise, or nocino. This saison picks up a really unique walnut character from the Italian amaro. 375ml bottles of Saison Ellende are available now at the Upright Brewing tasting room and soon at fine bottleshops.

Stormbreaker Brewing: Barrel-Aged Winter Coat

North Portland’s Stormbreaker Brewing has went a really interesting route with this years winter warmer by fermenting this strong, mahogany ale with dark sweet cherries and wolfberries. Sweet orange peel brings in a bright, pithy, bittersweet quality and aging in Bull Run Distilling bourbon barrels for a year brings vanilla oak tannins, light bourbon spice and booze. Barrel-Aged Winter Coat 2018 vintage is available only at Stormbreaker’s two pubs on N. Mississippi Ave. and the new St. Johns location. 7.5% ABV and 35 IBU. Brewed with Maris Otter, 2 Row, Honey Malt, Biscuit Malt, Special B, Crystal 60, and Chocolate Malt and Sterling and Fuggle hops.

Level Beer: Fatality

Level has just released its first ever barrel-aged beer, an imperial stout aged in 10-year old bourbon barrels from East Side Distilling. Level Beer has released the imperial stout in both non-barrel-aged and barrel-aged forms both in 16oz cans, available for a limited time. The brewery continues their video game theme with a Mortal Kombat-inspired name and label, which is sure to up the beer geek interest. This beer is big, dark, decadent, and roasty with notes of toasted marshmallow and vanilla. 11.5% ABV.

Ex Novo Brewing: Nevermore

Charity-driven North Portland brewpub Ex Novo Brewing won acclaim for their twist on the Barleywine style when they won a gold medal for Nevermore at the 2016 Oregon Beer Awards. Nevermore is back in a new 2018 version that sounds like the same beer recipe only instead of just bourbon barrels this year was a blend of Jack Daniels Whiskey barrels and Archery Summit Pinot Noir barrels. Those wine barrels should amp up the fruitiness and perhaps even add some acidity. What made Nevermore unque to begin with was that it’s a “Black” Barleywine and the brewers house-smoke figs to add to it and also add cocoa nibs for a bittersweet, almost savory and balanced winter warmer that should cellar well. 500ml bottles of the 12.5% ABV Nevermore are available now at the brewery.

Gigantic Brewing: Scotch barrel-aged MASSIVE!

Southeast Portland’s Gigantic Brewing releases an English-style barleywine every year in bourbon barrel-aged form, but this year there is also a very special and rare Scotch barrel-aged version. MASSIVE! is brewed with a unique, very old school European technique that accentuates toasted and caramel malts by boiling a light wort of Golden Promise base malt for 8 hours. While most more caramel/toasted beers get those flavors from already roasted Crystal malts, this style naturally crystalizes and caramelizes the lighter malts in the boiling liquid over a long boil. Most worts boil for only 60-90 minutes, so MASSIVE’s 8 hour boil time is significant. This year the brewery is releasing only 30 cases of the Scotch barrel-aged edition that sat in Macallan barrels for almost 2 years. Get over to Gigantic’s taproom now for your one chance at scoring a 500ml bottle of this year’s edition, which also has the distinction of being the strongest beer on this list at 14.3% ABV.

Pelican Brewing: Mother of All Storms

First introduced in 2009, Pelican Brewing’s Mother of All Storms Barleywine became one of the highest rated and most sought after releases in Oregon. Based on Pelican’s great Stormwatcher’s Winterfest and English-style Barleywine, the brewery takes that beer and ages it for about a year in Kentucky bourbon barrels to create Mother of All Storms. This is a really great expression of what the English-style barleywine is all about, contrasting the hoppy and lighter bodied American style barleywine, this one is more malt focused with noticeable biscuit, toffee and caramel notes, with a more toasty, and very oaky-bourbony bite to it. Known to cellar well for many years with it’s hefty 14% ABV and 40 IBUs, MOAS is available now in 22oz bottles at the brewpubs and select bottleshops.

Great Notion Brewing: (BBDS) Bourbon Barrel Double Stack

Released last Saturday to much hype, anticipation and some controversy, Double Stack is Great Notion’s beery answer to a boozy breakfast. Double Stack is the breweries Imperial Stout made with an intense addition of maple syrup and coffee and this winter the brewery has released a bourbon barrel-aged version in bottles for the first time ever called simply BBDS. Collector’s gift packs of two bottles, a special Double Stack beanie and glassware were sold-out at the brewery on Saturday for a double-take worthy $125, but single bottles will go on sale shortly, perhaps as soon as this week. Bourbon Barrel Double Stack is 13.2% ABV and packaged in wax-dipped 5ooml bottles. Full story on the BBDS 2018 bottle release here.

Hopworks Urban Brewery: Barrel-aged Motherland RIS

HUB recently released their Motherland Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels for the first time in 16oz cans and 4-packs. Hopworks calls this their darkest winter beer and that they aged it in a selection of different Bourbon barrels. BA Motherland is apparently a very limited can release of only 40 cases this year so it may or may not still be available at Hopworks three locations. Hopworks writes that that the Motherland “barrel aging process ads notes of oak, leather, wood, whiskey and rounds out the beer beautifully.” Motherland RIS is $24 per 4-pack and a giant 13.2% ABV.

Deschutes Brewery: The Dissident 100% Brett Edition

This is the first year that Deschutes Brewery has strayed from their regular recipe for The Dissident – a Flanders Red/Brown-style mixed culture sour with cherries. For the 2018 release, in addition to the standard Dissident, Deschutes added a version with Marionberries and a version fermented with only Brettanomyoces wild yeast and for my money it’s the best of the three versions. The Dissident is the breweries ode to Oud Bruin styles of maltier, dark amber to brown, Flemish-style ales which are often known for intense oak, cherry tartness and some red wine, sherry and balsamic vinegar acidity. The Brett edition of THe Dissident has light acidity and tart red wine and cherry notes with horse blanket, earth, oak and funk for a complex sipper that’s great now but should also age well. The Dissident 100% Brett Edition is 8.7% ABV and available in 500ml bottles wherever good beer is sold.

Block 15 Brewing: Figgy Pudding

Block 15 takes the old strong and spiced ales back to their British roots with a beer inspired by the English holiday classic dish Figgy Pudding. This strong old ale style beer is made with black strap molasses and English malts for a nutty, caramel, butterscotch, rich flavor that’s complimented with Ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. To finish off this decadent, fruity and sweet winter warmer, Block 15 aged it in brandy barrels for a sweet boozy finish. 500 ml bottles available now in select locations. 10% ABV.

Baerlic Brewing: Bourbon Barrel Aged Dulce de Leche Imperial Stout (Coffee + Vanilla)

Inner southeast Portland brewers Baerlic Brewing discovered a homemade Dulce de Leche recipe while surfing the internet and decided to make their own and add 120 pounds to a Russian Imperial Stout. Dulce de Leche is like an intense hybrid of caramel and cream made by boiling sweetened condensed milk for more than four hours until the milk sugars caramelize. This sounds like the perfect beer addition in the age of Pastry Stouts and so the brewery added it to their Imperial Stout in 2017 and aged some in Old Weller Bourbon and Elijah Craig 12 year bourbon barrels. Baerlic’s Bourbon barrel-aged Dulce de Leche Imperial Stout was recently released in 130 cases of bottles with a separate coffee and vanilla variant, if you need even more roasty and decadent flavors in this gooey abyss. Bottles are available now of this 10.5% ABV beer at the breweries two taprooms and select bottleshops of the pacific northwest.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com