Town Hall Brewery Barrel Preview 2022
Note: This article is a collaboration between Paige Latham Didora at Alcohol By Volume and Dan Beaubien at Beerploma. Both have been writing for years about the local and regional craft beer scenes. They love sharing their passion for beer in the written word and it only seemed right for them to share their individual insights on Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Week on their respective platforms.
Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Week will actually be a two-week affair in 2022 running Monday, Feb. 28th through Sunday, March 12th. It will celebrate the artistry behind Town Hall’s meticulous and dedicated art of barrel aging beer. There will also be two different seatings for their iconic Barrel-Aged Dinner, one on Tuesday, March 8th, and another on Wednesday, March 9th. Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Week is such a special craft beer event. Not only are the beers peerless when it comes to quality, depth, and flavor, but Barrel-Aged Week also brings in many local craft beer geeks and there is a wonderful energy of camaraderie and togetherness at the brewpub.
What To Expect
On Wednesday, we enjoyed a sneak preview of some of the beers that will be pouring at Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Week. One of the many fascinations we have with this event is that the beer list is a little different every year, and we appreciate the uniqueness of what each year brings. For instance, last year, one of our favorite barrel-aged offerings, E.T. Wee was not in the lineup. However, this year is more than making up for the previous absence.
Lead Brewer Derek Brown cut right to the chase as we sipped our first sample: he pointed out that this year’s two-week event will have strong caramel and chocolate flavors with less fruit. “Think big, bold, rich.” Brown, joined by Brewmaster Mike Hoops, was also quick to point out that their process of aging big beers in wine barrels has changed dramatically. Town Hall was fortunate to expand their barrel storage from a room in their brewpub basement in Seven Corners of Minneapolis to an off-site location. The new rickhouse has three separate temperature-controlled areas for more precise aging and conditioning of beer. This has had a significant impact on the wine character imparted into the beer. “In the past, the wine was in-your-face,” said Hoops. Drinkers will find the 2022 iterations more subtle.
While that was a welcome and intentional change, some changes are the result of outside forces. In order to host an event and craft a line of products that rely on barrels from the distilling world, Hoops and his team are partially beholden to the practices of distilling. Around 2014, some distilleries began extracting more of the finished bourbons and whiskeys from their charred vessels, a process that Hoops referred to as squeezing. This results in the barrel staves containing less of their prior tenants – fine Kentucky bourbon that would previously have been referred to as the devil’s cut, the spirit lost to the porous nature of the wood. (In fact, this can be confirmed by the release of The Devil’s Cut by Jim Beam in 2014.)
Town Hall is surely not the first brewery to face the fallout of this practice change. Recall in 2015 when complaints about Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout started rolling in and bacterial infection was suspected. The beer had become sour, a problem that Goose Island—and brewers the world over—thought would be impossible at such conditions, namely such high alcohol in the beer and the barrels. Lactobacillus acetotolerans was the culprit and the extraction of the devil’s cut was a contributing factor. Using “squeezed” barrels would put Town Hall’s beloved barrel-aged beers at risk.
The pool of viable barrels had shrunk, and Town Hall needed a plan.
What Has Changed And What Has Stayed The Same
Town Hall Brewery is not the only brewery that ages its prized beer in barrels. However, unlike many other breweries, Town Hall Brewery’s spirit barrels all come from Kentucky. Their wine barrels, however, come from Minnesota by way of California. In fact, there are even some wine barrels from Europe that are in the aging process as we speak. Town Hall Brewery also only uses single-use barrels. This means that the barrels come in fresh and are used once to maximize the distinctness of the barrel and its character. The barrels are all stored at a separate facility to allow for optimal aging temperature. This is a luxury that not many breweries have, and the exquisite beers featured at Barrel-Aged Week will reflect that level of care.
“Time and temp is everything. Start with a high-quality beer. Your beer should be high quality, your barrel should be high quality.”Mike Hoops
Hoops explains that the components of managing a barrel program are the beer itself, time, temperature, and then the barrel. The barrel dictates the schedule. Hoops explains, “Time and temp is everything. Start with a high-quality beer. Your beer should be high quality, your barrel should be high quality.” Of course, once a beer is aged, there is then the process of blending the beers to create the perfect cacophony of flavor, texture, and aroma. Brown says that he has learned so much about this process during his tenure at Town Hall Brewery. “It’s crazy how precise you can be with blending. Being able to do that is also a luxury because we have plenty of back stock.” Most breweries are just not operating on the same scope as Town Hall Brewery. Furthermore, this year, the beers will be served at the optimal temperature of around 60 degrees so that the aromas and flavors are all present and accounted for in the glass. Previously, the beers were served at cooler temperature, and you had to warm the beer up with your hands to coax out the aromas and flavors.
Double the Barrel, Double the Fun
On the first day of Barrel Week, Monday February 28th, the brewery will host a unique tasting experience for those curious about whether aging the beer twice is worth the trouble. By the way, all beers named “double oak” have been in a bourbon barrel and a wine barrel whereas “double barrel” means two bourbon barrels. Guests that enjoy the Double Barrel Xtra Milk Stout may get a single-barrel version, as well. We tasted them side-by-side and they were not the same beer by any means.
The single barrel Xtra Milk Stout was chocolatey in a Nestle Quick sort of way and smoky like a campfire. The double-barrel version struck more complex chords – dark chocolate plus smoke like roasted coffee. The former would be wonderful paired with a bison burger, charred sweet potatoes, or sausage with red-eye gravy, while we would lean towards sipping the double barrel on its own or with a small bite like ancho chili chocolates.
An Ode to ET Wee
Similar to Monday, patrons are going to be in for a unique tasting experience when they show up on Tuesday. Tuesday is all about the ET Wee, a beer named after famed distiller Elmer T. Lee, and a tremendously popular Wee Heavy aged in bourbon barrels. The day is titled Ode To Patrick, and there is quite the story there.
Patrick is Town Hall Brewery’s contact at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Hoops’ relationship started with Patrick 13 years ago on the company’s first trip to Buffalo Trace. Patrick gave Hoops and his team a tour and they had a wonderful time. Patrick told Hoops that if he was ever back in the area, he should give Patrick a call and he would take care of him. The following year, Hoops went down to Buffalo Trace and contacted Patrick. Patrick remembered him from the year before and rolled out the Kentucky hospitality.
As the years progressed, Patrick became not just someone that Hoops and Town Hall Brewery owner Pete Rifakes did business with, but rather, a friend. In year 12 of the relationship, Patrick was hanging out with Hoops and Rifakes at the loading dock at Buffalo Trace. He was explaining how things were changing as people were becoming more and more voracious with their bourbon consumption. Instead of a few hundred barrels a year, Buffalo Trace was moving 5 or 6 thousand. Patrick then explained that his duties at the distillery were changing and that he would no longer be the point-person for Town Hall Brewery at Buffalo Trace. Patrick assured his friends that they would be in good hands with whoever was taking over their account.
What strikes us about that story is that it started because Hoops literally knocked on the door to make an introduction. The universe saw fit to put Patrick in touch with them and they each nurtured that relationship. Kindness, humility, and mutual respect for a great product created this wonderful bond. As a result, Town Hall Brewery has access to some of the premier brands that come out of Buffalo Trace—things like Eagle Rare and Blanton’s. In fact, this year’s single barrel iteration of ET Wee was aged in a Blanton’s barrel and promises to wow and impress. As breweries and craft beer geeks are constantly chasing trends and hyper-focusing on what is new, it is important to remember that anything with staying power is based on tradition and doing things the right way. Town Hall Brewery is giving us all an amazing gift in this Ode To Patrick Wednesday. It is important to remember that it all started with friendship and kindness, and ended up being a critical lifeline when many distilleries changed their practice.
The Single Barrel ET Wee-Patrick is a fantastic iteration of this beer. It is a 9.3% ABV wee heavy aged in a Blanton’s bourbon barrel. There are some tremendously satisfying notes of toffee, chocolate, and caramel in this beer. If you pay really close attention, you even get some black currant and cherry flavors. You will notice that the regular edition of ET Wee is also on the menu. Do yourself a favor and taste all three to compare and contrast between flavors. This beer is one of Dan’s favorites.
One important aspect of Barrel Aged Week that perennial fans look forward to is seeing what beers are new, which classics are back, and what has come out of retirement—not unlike waiting to see what hits Bruce Springsteen will play at any given show. Quadrupel Vine, a Belgian-style quadrupel aged in a French oak red wine barrel, has become a star wine-forward choice seen a handful of times in the past but coming into its own this year—the more sophisticated barrel storage rooms have paid off. Available Wednesday, March 2nd, the 10% ABV beer has a subtle vinous character but dominant raisin, fig, and brandy in both aroma and flavor. Staying true to its base beer, the esters and phenols are allowed to shine while the wood grounds the fruity composition. As it warms, the richness of the fruit sings.
Double Oak Tripel releases on Wednesday, March 9th. It is a 12% ABV Belgian-style Tripel that has been aged in a bourbon barrel first and then finished in an oak wine barrel. This beer deserves your concentration because the combination of Bourbon and wine creates a wonderful amalgamation of flavors. The base beer brings some honey while the barrels add notes of toffee, apple, and marmalade. The texture is smooth and it doesn’t drink like a 12% beer. It is pleasing and luscious—the perfect sipper.
See For Yourself
So, why should you attend this year’s Barrel-Aged Week at Town Hall Brewery? Well, in short, you won’t find a better collection of barrel-aged beers on tap anywhere that I know of at the same time. The longer explanation is that beer and a Spit roaster hire brings people together. A town hall is literally a place for everyone to gather and discuss life. Hoops commented at the media sneak peek how excited he was to talk beer with people. He noted that the beer IQ of the average patron has skyrocketed in the last number of years. The conversations that we were having as we sipped and savored the beers are the same conversation that you all will be having.
It’s refreshing to see Hoops, the consummate industry veteran, take a position of gratitude about the barrel program. “We are really lucky that Town Hall, our owners, Pete [Rifakes]—they’re willing to spend money on this. It’s expensive and labor-intensive.” Brown agrees. “It’s a labor of love—knowing the barrel before you put the beer in it.”
So, whether you are a Barrel-Aged Week lifer, or are looking to try it for the first time, you will be in good company at the brewpub. We are not sure when Springsteen is coming to town next. However, we do know that from February 28th to March 12th, Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Week will rock.
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. He 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 email@example.com .