In honor of American Craft Beer Week, we went in search of some truly unique American beers and found these two: the 18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA from Great Divide Brewing Co. and Funky Jewbelation by Schmaltz Brewing Company.
Aging beer in wood barrels isn’t a new practice. Before cheap production of glass bottles became possible as a result of the Industrial Revolution, nearly all beer was stored in wood barrels right up until it was served. If it took a few months for a brewer to sell a barrel of beer to a bar owner, then another month to transport the barrel from an eastern brewery to, say, a bar in a distant frontier town, and then another month or two for the bar’s patrons to drain the barrel, a beer could easily end up taking on an aged flavor simply as a matter of circumstance, if not by design.
Despite historical precedent and the widespread use of barrel aging in wine and liquor, finding a barrel aged beer in a modern grocery store or beer distributor can be tough. Though I can’t say I’m surprised. My initial reaction from both of these beers is that they’re more challenging than your average porter, or even IPA. These aren’t beers that you can sip absentmindedly while doing or discussing other things. These beers demand attention.
18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA
The Great Divide Brewing Company is based out of Denver, Colorado and has, apparently, been around for about 18 years now. Great Divide produces 21 different brews, though they don’t seem to have one that you could call their flagship label (like how Rogue has Dead Guy Ale, or Magic Hat has #9).
The 18th Anniversary brew is aged in American and French oak, which gives it an earthy undertone beneath the hoppy high notes. The result is complex, almost to the point of being overwhelming. This is an interesting beer, and I’m glad I tried it, but I’m not sure I’d order a full pint of it.
This funky brew is a blend of six different Schmaltz ales aged in whiskey barrels (73%) and bourbon barrels (27%). The result is a nearly 10% ABV dark beer that has an almost wine-like sweetness and a great head. Individual notes and flavors are tough to sort out and identify probably due to the six different beers mixed together. The result is muddled, but overall pretty drinkable for a dedicated dark beer lover. Truly, it is a novelty beer that you’ll probably drink once and enjoy. Schmaltz has some way better seasonal offerings that I would go for instead.
Though neither of these brews are great, it’s good to see that American craft brewers are taking risks. Even within the craft beer niche, it’d be easy to settle into a pattern of bold but repetitive IPAs and chocolate stouts. So as this year’s American Craft Beer Week wraps up, go out and find a beer you’ve never tried before. Try something odd or different sounding. Someone was bold enough to craft this fine beer, you can at least be bold enough to sip it.