Sea salt goses and tropical IPAs can be fantastic, but once the leaves begin to change, many drinkers start looking for stronger beers aged in wood. That's often a porter or imperial stout that pulls flavors from bourbon or whiskey barrels. But it can also be a tart autumnal ale that gets funky, woody flavors from aging in oak. Here are a few barrel-aged beers you'd be wise to look for this autumn.
Ballast Point High West Barrel Aged Victory at Sea: Last October, Constellation Brands, the parent company of Ballast Point and Corona, purchased Utah's High West craft whiskey distillery for $160 million. This year, Ballast Point began aging its Victory at Sea coffee porter in High West barrels. (Ah, corporate synergy!) Victory at Sea has previously been aged in a variety of barrels, including Heaven Hill and Elijah Craig bourbons and Ballast Point's own Three Sheets rum, and the whiskey versions have had prominent whiskey spices and lots of creamy vanilla, as well as a lingering coffee and chocolate finish. ballastpoint.com.
Lagunitas Willettized Coffee Stout: High West's new ownership meant the end of a long-standing partnership with Lagunitas, which aged its coffee stout in a mix of High West bourbon and rye barrels for up to 17 months to create High West-ified Imperial Coffee Stout. Brewmaster Jeremy Marshall wasn't thrilled about the decision. "It's an interruption of your raw material supply," he explains. "The barrel becomes an ingredient." Thankfully, Lagunitas quickly found a new supplier: Kentucky's family-owned Willett distillery, which worked with Lagunitas last year on a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. Marshall says there will obviously be differences in the two beers because of the wooden barrels themselves as well as what they contained, but everything else will be pretty much the same, down to a variety of ages in the whiskey. "In my mind, why would I change the base recipe or use a coffee that was radically different? . . . We'll see what the court of public opinion is. We're already prepared for the 'High West-ified was better.' "
In preparation for the change, Lagunitas released its remaining High West-ified bottles in August. "Anything anyone finds is the last of the last," Marshall promises. Happy hunting. lagunitas.com.
Founders CBS: Founders' CBS — short for Canadian Breakfast Stout — is one of the most sought-after and highly rated beers in America right now. It hasn't been commercially available since 2015. But news broke last month that Founders had filed a new 2017 CBS label with the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, indicating it would be part of the brewery's 2017 Barrel-Aged Series. Before long, beer geeks were speculating about when they would get their hands on the stout, which is brewed with coffee and chocolate, then aged in single-barrel bourbon casks that have most recently been used to age maple syrup. An email from a brewery publicist said that "We actually haven't announced our final Barrel-Aged Series release yet," but if it is CBS, previous versions have been released in December, and unlike the last incarnation, it won't be draft-only: The label Founders submitted is clearly for a 750-milliliter bottle. foundersbrewing.com.
New Belgium Wood Cellar Reserve Series: New Belgium has been shaking things up this year, releasing several variations on its new Voodoo Ranger IPA series and replacing the popular Lips of Faith line with fancy corked-and-caged bottles called the Wood Cellar Reserve series. Look for sour ales, such as Felix — the base beer for New Belgium's Le Terroir and La Folie — aged in wooden barrels called foeders and in Leopold Brothers whiskey barrels. newbelgium.com.
Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: One of the biggest and best-known barrel-aged beers is set to make a big comeback. After having to recall four of the six Bourbon County variants released in 2015 because of bacterial infections, Goose Island sent only four types of barrel-aged stouts and barleywines to the market in 2016. This year will see an expanded lineup of beers hit the market on Black Friday, including a stout aged with blueberry juice and almond extract and, for the brewery's home town of Chicago, a Bananas Foster-inspired stout aged "with bananas, roasted almonds and cassia bark," which is essentially cinnamon. gooseisland.com.
Dogfish Head Oak-Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout: Dogfish Head's potent World Wide Stout is one of the most legendary American craft beers: Brewed in 1999 with the intent of being "the strongest beer in the world," it has ranged from 15 to 20 percent alcohol by volume, a level that still sounds over the top even as we've become accustomed to high-test imperial stouts. Last month, Dogfish released its first bottled variation, Oak-Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout, with a stated potency of 16 to 17.5 percent ABV. Aged in 10,000-gallon oak tanks with Madagascar vanilla beans, it has notes of fudge, cocoa and raspberries, and a noticeable heat from all that alcohol. Dogfish says it will be available through October. dogfish.com.
Redbeard Moriarty: Here's one for D.C., Maryland and Virginia beer lovers: Every fall, I find myself looking forward to Moriarty, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout from Redbeard Brewing in Staunton, Va. The tiny brewery doesn't bottle or can, so you'll have to make the trip to the Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley to guarantee a taste. It's worth the drive: The balanced, flavorful Moriarty is as good as the Sherlock Holmes nemesis it's named for was evil. Previous incarnations were aged in Van Winkle or Colonel E.H. Taylor rye barrels, and this year's edition, set to be released Oct. 18, spent six months in a blend of 10-year-old John J. Bowman barrels, 10-year-0ld Eagle Rare barrels and seven-year-old Buffalo Trace barrels. redbeardbrews.com.