Saturday, September 08, 2007

Spirits envy: wooden barrels

Oak should be like shoes of invisibility: transporting one miraculously but nowhere in evidence.

I love that quote from wine blogger Fredric Koeppel. He is specifically referring to some recent over-oaked California Pinot Noirs: their bourbon-esque aging detracting from their delicately ravishing flavors (my phrasing).

Consider this: There is beer scholarship which holds that pre-20th century brewers would take measures to prevent the taste of wood in their beers. The barrel was the vessel, not the ingredient - shoes of invisibility, if you will.

Aging in wood to gain sour complexity and controlled oxidation - lambics, Flemish Red ales, old ales, Lost Abbey, come to mind - does not impart wooden heaviness.

But in some extreme beers today, wood and bourbon-cask (vanillin) notes are deliberately infused in order to overwhelm the beer. The brewers of these may be inadvertently revealing a hidden yours-is-bigger-than-mine envy: distilled spirits versus beer.

And some brewers indolently add wood chips and vanilla beans to their beers merely to imitate the flavor of wooden barrels. That's not brewing. That's bartending. It's adding a flavor, mixing a malt cocktail.

If I want some whisk(e)y in my beer, I'll drink a boilermaker.

1 comment:

  1. Fredric Koeppel9/8/07, 10:24 AM

    Hi, Tom, thanks for reading BTYH, and many thanks for quoting that line. Perhaps someday we'll teach the world's palates that oak madness does not have to prevail.

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