Friday, February 18, 2011

Beer Review: My Take on Oak-Aged Brews

First things first: I love oak-aged beers.

I first fell in love with the flavor when I tried New Holland's oak-aged Mad Hatter. Somehow, the brewery managed to make beer taste like whiskey. And who doesn't like whiskey, right? We'd drink a lot more of it if it didn't totally screw you up at the end of the night. It is much more pleasurable to savor a full pint, and still be able to walk out of the bar when done.
Although New Holland was the first I tried, almost two years ago, the trend is picking up among brewers.

Some brewers start with fresh oak casks, burned a bit on the inside to bring out the flavor. Other brewers start with casks which have already been used for aging whiskey. Each is good, each brings its unique flavor. If you're interested in the second option, some distillers are selling their pre-used whiskey casks. They cost $80-$150 a barrel, depending on the size and the source.

Next, the brewers pick a beer flavor which will nicely compliment, or pleasantly contrast with the oak flavor. New Holland's Mad Hatter IPA is a good choice. It is a hoppy beer whose bitterness mellows with the oak. The Mad Hatter is a great base for many flavors. Any time I stop into the brewery bar, there are usually two or three additional flavor of Hatter on tap. (Though my favorite will always be the oak-aged.)
The Royal Oak Brewery in Royal Oak, MI also has made an oak-aged beer available. The one I have sampled started with their house red. Their red has an earthier flavor, which in my opinion competes with the oak. This is a good choice for people who don't like to taste the oak as much. But if you're going to give the beer a punch of oak flavor, you had better go balls out. Amiright?

Third, the brewers let their beers age in the oak cask of choice. Aging beers is also an up-and-coming trend - like people age cheese and beer for more distinct flavors. Usually, the longer it ages, the deeper the flavor.
So what pairs well with an oak-aged beer? I would suggest creamy foods, like cheese or olives, or foods with citrus, something marinated with orange or lemon perhaps.
Again, professing my love for New Holland - their pub offers marinated olives that use orange zest in the marinade. This pairs very nicely with the oak-aged Hatter.
If you're going to be drinking a variety of beers, I would recommend this type to be drunk after lighter-flavored beers, and avoid beers with fruit. The oak flavor can be quite over-powering and can mar the softer fruit flavors.

Additionally, last year I was told by a New Holland rep that their oak-aged Hatter will be heading to stores at some point in the future. Let's hope that point comes sooner than later.


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