Town Hall Barrel-Aged Week 2020 Primer

Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Week is the culmination of their thoughtful, meticulous, and artistic approach to the alchemy of aging beer in wood. It kicks off on Monday, Feb. 17th and blows the horn for final call on Saturday, Feb. 22nd. On Thursday, I got a little sneak peek to see what will be poured this year.

How Barrel-Aging Beer Started at Town Hall

It’s mind-boggling to think that the 18 different selections that comprise this year’s Barrel-Aged Week all started with one Jack Daniels barrel twenty years ago. Even more fascinating is that said barrel was purchased for around 75 bucks. The average price for a used barrel from a distillery or broker is now three times that! Mike Hoops, the brewmaster at Town Hall Brewery, assured us that this endeavor is not just an excuse to travel to Kentucky and Tennessee to drink whiskey.

Sourcing Barrels: A Tip Sheet From the Pros

In addition to showcasing several of the Barrel-Aged Week beers, brewers Mike Hoops and Derek Brown gave us a glimpse into how they source their barrels. The exploding spirits industry has seismically shifted the landscape of barrel acquisition. As barrel brokers have become a force in the industry, there are more factors a brewery must consider if they are looking to maintain quality.

It used to be that a brewery would be able to get barrels directly from a distillery as long as they didn’t publicize where the barrels were from to the consumer. Now, many breweries are doing this. When a brewery explicitly states where the barrel is from, there is a chance that said barrels were procured from a broker. When a broker sells barrels to someone, they are a middle-man and may not have the same standards for proper storage that the distiller has.

Hoops sticks with relationships that he has established over the years. Some sources have fallen by the wayside due to drops in quality. Hoops also cites changes in distillery methodology and process as a reason why he likes to be hands-on and visit distilleries directly. This ensures he is getting barrels that are up to the Town Hall standard of excellence.

The bottom line is that the barrels that spoon with the Town Hall beer are the cream of the crop. This is why Barrel-Aged Week is such a wonderful experience.

A Flight of Fancy: The Czar Jack Rickhouse Flight

A sensory experience that you should not miss is the Rickhouse flight featuring 3 different iterations of Czar Jack, the GABF gold-medal winning Russian Imperial Stout aged in a bourbon barrel. This flight comes with Barrel A, Barrel B, and then the harmonious blend of the two. I will let you figure out which one you like best on your own. However, I can say this-try Barrel B with the smoked pecans and prepare to be transported to flavor nirvana.

Schedule of Barrel-Aged Week Releases

Monday, Feb. 17th-Barrel Crew Select Double Barreled Xtra Milk Stout (Double Milk Stout), Double Oak Bruin (Belgian Style Bruin), Quadrupel Vine (Belgian Style Quadrupel), E.T. Wee (Heavy Scottish Ale)
Tuesday, Feb. 18th-Barley Vine (American Barleywine), Frosted Vine (Imperial Stout), Tripel Vine (Belgian Style Tripel), Baltic Red (Baltic Style Porter)
Wednesday, Feb. 19th-Kentucky Truffle (Chocolate Milk Stout), Manhattan Reserve (Belgian Grand Cru with Cherries), Rye Barrel (German Style Roggenbier), Nitro Kentucky Truffle(Nitrogenated Chocolate Milk Stout)
Thursday, Feb. 20th-Project 3106 (Belgian style Bruin with Belgian Dark Chocolate and Kumquats), Foolish Angel (Belgian Style Quadrupel)
Friday, Feb. 21st-Twister Trace (American Barleywine), Buffalo Bock (German Style Weizenbock)
Saturday, Feb. 22nd-Czar Jack (Russian Imperial Stout)

Why I Love Barrel-Aged Week

Town Hall’s Barrel-Aged Week is my favorite craft beer event in Minnesota. There is no better way to experience the remarkable confluence of wood and beer than this. Hoops and Brown have put so much of themselves in ensuring that we all get to experience the beer at its zenith. Listening to them speak to their process and new learning inspires me. Their passion for this labor of love is evident in their stories about the process. These beers are available to everyone at a price that is fair. Town Hall Brewery makes these incredible beers accessible in a way that is welcoming and inclusive. Heck, this year, they are even serving the beers at the perfect drinking temperature so you can dive right in!

My advice is to carve out a few dates on your calendar to really experience as much as you can. Unless you are Andre the Giant, you are running a fool’s errand if you think you can knock it out all 18 offerings in one sitting. If you want to enjoy the Rickhouse flight of Czar Jack, you will want to go early in the week as there is a limited supply, and it is sure to go quickly. You will also want to make sure you plan on eating there if you are doing anything more than one flight. We all want you to be safe and the prime rib sandwich that is smoked and slow cooked for 18 hours is a perfect accompaniment to the beers.

So, while all the other beer people are going crazy chasing trends, Town Hall is staying true to itself. As Hoops so eloquently put it, “It’s hard to develop an identity when you are chasing a trend.” Come and see for yourself why Town Hall Brewery’s identity is as solid and defined as their list of Barrel-Aged Week beer selection. Prost!

Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer.  Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged.  If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .