Make us your home page

That everyday barrel-aged imperial stout? Come on, brewers

Barrel-aged imperial stouts are dead.

Of course, I say this with some irony, following another string of massively hyped barrel-aged stout releases by St. Petersburg's Cycle Brewing. Cycle, which admittedly makes extraordinarily great stouts, has released more than 10 limited-edition barrel-aged imperial stouts this year, each featuring a line at the brewery before opening (in some cases, starting at 5 a.m. or earlier) and a $100+ price tag per bottle on the secondary market within the same day of release.

So, people obviously love barrel-aged imperial stouts — or at least, they're told they love them, or they know they can flip them for a profit — but does that mean that we really need more of them?

When Goose Island first played with aging imperial stouts in bourbon barrels, it was a novel concept. The shelves of your local beer shop weren't filled with bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts. Now, barrel-aged imperial stouts are commonplace and predictable — they've become an inhibition to creativity instead of the fruitful experimentation they started as.

Here's an experiment: Visit any brewery that's been open for, say, a year or more. Ask if they have any special, limited beers, or beers for which they do a special bottle release. I'll set the over/under for "yes" and "a barrel-aged imperial stout" at 75 percent. It's ubiquitous to the point of being boring.

Now, there is a good reason for barrel-aged imperial stouts to be given special treatment. They're expensive, time-consuming and they generally age well, making them good candidates for bottle releases. My gripe is not with barrel-aged imperial stouts, per se — it's with the thought process and motivation that goes into making them.

Here's the formula: brew up a big ol' stout; age it in a barrel that once contained a type of whiskey, rum, brandy or tequila; add a flavoring addition consisting of a sole addition or combination of cocoa, vanilla, hazelnut, coffee, coconut, chili peppers, cinnamon or lactose; have a bottle release.

If you read those instructions and salivated a little, it's okay — I did as I was typing them. There's a reason every brewery seems to want to get in on the barrel-aged stout bandwagon, and it's because these beers more often than not taste pretty good. But they're not special anymore.

What I'd like to see is a bottle release for a beer that is truly special. I want a beer that a brewer put his heart into, working out a concept that actually means something to him, no matter how subtle or how bold.

If a brewer spent a year endlessly tweaking their Belgian dubbel and finally made what they feel is the perfect, ultimate recipe, then I want a bottle of that. If a brewer wants to really take a chance and flavor their house brown ale with a variety of local ingredients, then it may or may not be good, but it will at least be interesting. If a brewer makes an imperial stout and ages it in whiskey barrels, is it because they want to, or because they think they're supposed to?

I'll never stop enjoying barrel-aged imperial stouts. I've got more than a dozen of them in the beer fridge (and yes, half of them are from Cycle). But I'm also never going to get excited about them the way I used to, when they were somewhat uncommon; not on draft and in bottles at every taproom and bottle shop in town.

If you're a brewer and you're still reading this, consider holding off on that barrel-aged stout. We have plenty. Instead, why not give us something new, something exciting? After all, that's how barrel-aged stouts got to where they are now. Maybe your innovation will be the next thing people line up at 5 a.m. and wait for.; @WordsWithJG.

That everyday barrel-aged imperial stout? Come on, brewers 06/01/16 [Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2016 2:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Fans in Florida and beyond won't forget Gregg Allman

    Music & Concerts

    The end can come quickly for those who live fast and live hard, who create worlds with their talent and sometimes come close to throwing them away.

    This Oct. 13, 2011 file photo shows Gregg Allman performs at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville, Tenn. On Saturday, May 27, 2017, a publicist said the musician, the singer for The Allman Brothers Band, has died. (AP Photo/Joe Howell, File)
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 28


    Alabama: The country music all-timers hit the road for the Southern Drawl tour with openers, the Charlie Daniels Band. 7 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $26-$86. (813) 301-2500.

    Handout photo of Alabama, performing 5/28/17 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. Credit: Alan Messer
  3. Find serenity at Grand Cayman Island's Cemetery Beach



    Hey, cruisers, if you've been to Hell and back, snuggled with the stingrays and taken photos with the turtles at the Cayman Turtle Centre, you might be looking for something different on your next trip. (Guilty!)

    Good snorkeling can be found off shore at Cemetery Beach in Grand Cayman.
  4. Karen Bail, who helped Gibbs kids get to Broadway, retires


    ST. PETERSBURG — When neatnicks retire, they leave no trace behind. Their desks are clean, like a runway after the plane has taken off.

    Karen Bail warms up seniors Jonathan O’Brien, left, as Juan Peron and Addam Setzer as Che Guevara before the dress rehearsal of Evita in April.
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 27


    Tampa Bay Margarita Festival: The Barenaked Ladies will headline this festival with opener Cowboy Mouth. Enjoy more than 50 varieties of margarita drinks including a Sriracha strawberry, a bacon rita and even a jalapeno Cabo rita. There's beer and vodka for the non-tequila drinkers. Noon, Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N …