As the art of aging beer in used whiskey, bourbon and wine oak barrels has become fairly commonplace, brewers have begun to experiment with building flavor by swapping in sherry and rum barrels. But the newest trend in barrel-aged beer—tequila casks.
The flavor which a beer acquires from a barrel is obviously connected to whatever spirit or wine previously lived within the vessel, the size of the vessel, and also the type of wood from which it was built. In the case of tequila, reposado or "rested" tequila ages from a minimum of two months to a maximum of one year in any size barrel usually built from American, French or Canadian white oak. These barrels can be new, they can be charred on the inside imparting smoky flavors, or they can be previously used for other spirits like whiskey and wine, giving the beer wide ranging flavors like stone fruits and banana with toasted hints of wood, vanilla and coconut.
The practice of aging beer in used tequila barrels seems to inspire craft brewers to create brews that are experimental, innovative, bold, unforgettable and completely new.
Brewers also have the option to age their beer in smaller oak barrels previously used to rest añejo tequila. This "aged" spirit sits in the barrel from a minimum of one year to three years. Depending on the desired flavor profile, distillers age añejos in old reposado barrels or charred barrels from whiskey distilleries, which gives añejo tequila its distinctive caramel color. Depending on the beer style, beers aged in añejo barrels typically have a tropical finish, displaying flavors like pineapple, guava, papaya with wafts of blue agave sweetness.
One of the earliest and the most successful efforts to infuse beer with tequila flavor was made by France's Fischer Brewery in 1995. The Spanish-sounding Desperados was born, and mega-brewery Heineken picked up the recipe, which blends tequila barrel-aged pale lager with tequila and lemon "flavors." The six percent ABV malt beverage is currently exported to more than fifty countries around the world, with its main market still in France, where it is especially popular (some sources saying it’s the top alcohol brand) among millennials. Desperados finally hit the US in 2014.
But domestic craft brewers are taking tequila barrel-aged beers to the next level, experimenting with a myriad of beer styles like high octane Russian Imperial Stouts (with their notes of chocolate and coffee), Double India Pale Ales (with their bracingly bitter and herbaceous hop profiles), and American Strong Ales (in all their sweet malty glory). Some breweries are even blending unrelated, seemingly opposite beer styles (like estery Belgian Tripels and hoppy American IPA’s) before adding them to the tequila barrel. The practice of aging beer in used tequila barrels seems to inspire craft brewers to create brews that are experimental, innovative, bold, unforgettable and completely new.
TEQUILA BARREL-AGED BEERS TO TRY
Westbrook Brewing Co., Mt. Pleasant, SC
In 2012, for its one year anniversary (and the first of its eponymous Anniversary Series), South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewing Co. brewed this serious 10.5 percent ABV Russian Imperial Stout and aged it on cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and fresh habanero peppers. They’ve brought it back every May since and this year brewers decided to rest it for 12 months in tequila barrels. The result is flourless chocolate cake notes with a touch of smooth tequila, cinnamon, and some slight prickly heat.
Tequila Barrel Noir
Almanac Beer Co., San Francisco, CA
This robust, black American Stout is aged in charred tequila barrels for nine months, extracting hints of smoke and spice, as well as oak and vanilla. Boasting 10 percent ABV, the ale carries favors of coffee, tequila and chocolate, with herbaceous anise on the finish. Feel free to hold on to this bottle and age it even longer at home.
Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles, CA
This very limited 8.5 percent ABV draught-only release is Firestone Walker’s beloved Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout. The beer is aged for one year in 100 percent Blue Agave tequila barrels from Jalisco, Mexico, and this resting period imparts rich dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavors. Brewers also add dry and woody Fuggles hops, which contribute to the beer's bitter balance, while the tequila barrels give creamy and spicy notes of vanilla and coconut.
Prairie Artisan Ales, Tulsa, OK
OK-Sí is another big Russian Imperial Stout with flavors of chocolate, coffee and sweet caramel. The 12 percent ABV beer is a bold, thick and chewy brew, with the beer's malty sweetness balancing out intense oak and tequila favors. Tequila barrels add major oak notes, citrus, agave, dark fruit, and a touch of vanilla.
The Bruery, Placentia, CA
Is it a fruit beer? Is it a sour beer? Is it a barrel-aged beer? The answer is "all of the above." This huge wheat-based California tribute to the margarita is a 15 percent ABV ale aged for "an extended period of time" in tequila barrels. This beer finishes with a nuanced lime tartness and a surprising salty finish.
Points Unknown IPA
Ecliptic / Wicked Weed / Stone Brewing Co.
This deep golden collaboration ale is actually two beers. Its a seventy five—twenty five percent blend of a modern West Coast Imperial IPA and a traditional Belgian-style Tripel aged in reposado tequila barrels previously used to mature red wine. The result is a complex, 9.5 percent ABV beer with tropical fruity notes of banana and peaches. The IPA's big hops are balanced by the Tripel's honey sweetness and the finish is slightly dry with a boozy exhaust.