Craft Beers Aged In Bourbon Barrels, Blind Tasted And Ranked

Beer and bourbon go together really well. A shot of rail bourbon — Evan Williams Black, Jim Beam White, or some good Old No. 7 — practically demands an ice-cold beer chaser to help it go down more smoothly. That’s just facts, folks. But I’m not here to pair cheap bourbon with cans of cheap beer (I’ll do that another day). I’m here for that other beer and bourbon pairing — bourbon barrel aged beer, where beer is aged in old bourbon barrels to add that little something extra. And with oh so many of these brews on the market these days, it’s time for a bourbon barrel aged beer blind tasting.

Beer aged in bourbon barrels is nothing new. It’s been around for a long time — beer has been shipped around the world in barrels (whiskey, brandy, or otherwise) for centuries. Very generally speaking, these days you’re most likely to find stouts that have been bourbon barrel aged but any beer can be aged in a bourbon barrel, even a fresh IPA. That said, I kept this blind tasting a little broader with beers that you might actually be able to find. I did throw in a bourbon barrel aged beer I’ve been cellaring since 2017. The reason? All of these beers below can be cellared and aged at home for years. The flavors will change and peak just like a fine Bordeaux. I was curious as to whether these beers taking up space in my closet really made that much of a difference (which I’ll address in my “Final Thoughts” section below).

Anyway, our lineup today is:

  • Firestone Parabolita
  • Dragon’s Milk
  • Stone W00tstout
  • Full Sail Harrington’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Ale (2017)
  • Oakspire
  • Goose Island Bourbon County

Okay, let’s get into it and find some good bourbon barrel aged beer for you to drink this fall!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months

Part 1: The Taste

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

Taste 1

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

There’s a clear sense of vanilla on the nose with sour cherry, dry cacao, rich salted caramel, and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. The palate is pure vanilla syrup with a hint more of that sour note before dark chocolate covered-espresso beans kick in with a sense of that salted caramel nicely layered between the chocolate and espresso bean.

Overall, there’s a nice fizziness to the beer with a full mouthfeel and deep flavor notes. Long story short, it’s really good.

Taste 2

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This smells “Fizzy” and light with hints of dark chocolate and dark malts. The taste is very “dark ale” with a sense of chocolate malts and maybe some vanilla extract. There’s a hint of coffee but it’s more drip than espresso.

This very much felt like “dark beer” more than anything else.

Taste 3

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This is thick and syrupy with a hint of nuttiness and maybe some dark chocolate malts with a whisper of coffee grounds. The palate is really light and fizzy with sour cacao nibs next to cherry and maybe some dry hops that feel fruity.

This had a nice and soft feel to it overall but was very light and kind of landed with a thud.

Taste 4

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Raisins and winter spice lead on the nose with a hint of Hostess Apple Pies and a thin line of vanilla. The palate has an apple Jolly Rancher vibe next to cinnamon and dates with a hint of spicy apple cider with a little honey.

This was wildly different (it’s clearly a red ale and not a stout, for one). It was so complex yet had a clear and distinct flavor profile.

Taste 5

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Apple candy and canned brown bread lead on the nose with a hint of streusel and maybe some stewed pear. The palate has a nice lightness to it that’s accented by nutty notes, caramel malts, and a sense of apple fritter.

This was pretty damn nice, fruity, and very easy to drink while delivering a distinct flavor profile.

Taste 6

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This is super syrupy on the nose with dark chocolate sauce, salted caramel, nuttiness, and a good dose of fresh espresso straight off the machine. The palate has a sense of whiskey grains in a fermenter — think of sweet Cream of Wheat or grits — next to sour chocolate, rich vanilla, and plenty of toffee sweetness that gives way to a hint of soy sauce.

This is a huge beer with a lot of deep flavors and a lush mouthfeel. It does lean a little sweet for me, but there’s enough going on that I can forgive that.

Part 2: The Ranking

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

6. Dragon’s Milk — Taste 2

Dragon's Milk
New Holland

ABV: 11%

IBU: 30

Average Price: $15 (four-pack of 12 oz. bottles)

The Beer:

Dragon’s Milk is New Holland’s award-winning stout. The beer is aged for three months in bourbon barrels that age their own bourbon. So this is a very in-house brew.

Bottom Line:

This simply landed by last due to it being the thinnest of the bunch today. There just wasn’t a lot there beyond basic stout vibes.

5. Stone W00tstout — Taste 3

Stone W00tstout
Stone Brewing

ABV: 11.5%

IBU: 45

Average Price: $11.50 (one 22 oz. bottle)

The Beer:

This is a classic American imperial stout from Stone (which usually makes IPAs) with wheat and rye in the fermentation before a layer of English Target hops and pecans are added to the mix. The beer then spends time aging in various bourbon casks until it’s just right.

Bottom Line:

This was fine but really had a lot of blank fizziness and it just didn’t sing on the palate.

4. Oakspire — Taste 5

Oakspire
New Belgium

ABV: 9%

IBU: 27

Average Price: $13.50 (six-pack of 12 oz. bottles)

The Beer:

This New Belgium beer starts off with a mix of Pale, Munich, Caramel 80, Rye, Roasted Barley malts, and Nugget and Sabro hops to create a base ale. That ale then goes into vats where specially-made spires made from Four Roses bourbon barrels are added to help age the beer.

Bottom Line:

This was pretty nice overall. It felt like a bourbon barrel aged beer with a good and distinct flavor profile. It was a little on the lighter side, but well-rounded overall.

3. Full Sail Harrington’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Ale — Taste 4

Harrington's Red Ale
Full Sail

ABV: 10.2%

IBU: 39

Average Price: Limited (No longer available.)

The Beer:

This is a classic crafty red ale made with Two-Row, Pale, Caramel Red, and Caramel Rye malt alongside Nugget hops. That brew is then barreled in old Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels for a long rest before bottling.

Bottom Line:

This had that little more nuance and depth to it that put it easily into the top three. It was super easy to drink while still delivering a serious flavor profile that spoke to what was promised on the label.

2. Goose Island Bourbon County 2021 — Taste 6

Bourbon County
Goose Island

ABV: 14%

IBU: 60

Average Price: $13 (one 16.9 oz. bottle)

The Beer:

Goose Island’s stout is aged in various bourbon barrels for a whole year before those barrels are vatted and bottled for this iconic yearly release.

Bottom Line:

This was very good, but a little syrupy and sweet by the end. That said, it delivered on a big and bold bourbon barrel aged stout at every step from the nose to the finish. Had it had a little more nuanced balance, it would have been number one.

1. Firestone Parabolita — Taste 1

Parabolita
Firestone Walker

ABV: 9.2%

IBU: 40

Average Price: $7 (one 16-oz. can)

The Beer:

This starts off as Firestone’s iconic Parabola bourbon barrel aged stout that’s mixed with Velvet Merlin Milk stout and then amped up with Madagascar vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, and sea salt. The final product focuses on “Salted Caramel” as a jumping-off point for the bourbon barrel depth of the aged stout.

Bottom Line:

This was the most nuanced and beautifully built beer by far. There was no syrupiness or overly intense notes. It was balanced, delicious, and very much a bourbon-y beer.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer Blind
Zach Johnston

Overall, these beers were pretty damn nice. Some spoke to me more than others. The last two didn’t feel all that bourbon-forward at all, so I’d skip those if I was looking for a bourbon barrel aged beer.

That said, it can be overdone too. I really wanted to like the Bourbon County Stout but it was a lot to get through. It’s definitely a beer you want to split with a friend and slowly sip next to a backyard campfire.

As for the one cellared bourbon barrel aged beer (Full Sail), it was perfectly nice. It was light, distinct, and quaffable. I didn’t notice it being that much better than the better beers on the list though (it was still pretty damn good). So, maybe just drink whatever bourbon barrel aged beer you have right now — I can’t imagine that holding these back serves much purpose, so enjoy them!

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