• 09.-11. October 2023
  • Exhibition Centre Berlin

Barrel-aged Beers conquer the Bars

 © Brauerei Sander

Draught beer: a key concept for German beer drinkers. A well-tapped beer straight from the cask, preferably with an appetising head of foam! In other beer nations people shake their heads, but in Germany this is considered the ultimate delight.

However, the coexistence of beer and its cask has developed very differently through the ages. Originally, the wooden barrel was the ideal storage and transport vessel for all kinds of liquids, especially beverages. The aromatic effect of the wood, mostly oak, was broadly accepted. It suited some products particularly well, such as whisky, brandy and wine. Others were happy to do without it. Brewers, in particular, tried to banish the woody notes of the barrel from their beer aroma. With the help of boiling water or a pitch coating, the wood aromas were to be reduced. Later, containers made of metal or plastic were able to hold the beer and store it in taste-neutral containers.


The comeback of oak

Today’s brewers are rediscovering the charm of wooden barrel ageing. Especially beer types such as Stout or Barley Wine occasionally gain an aromatic depth from oak barrels and then taste even more delicious. And if these barrels can be pre-aged with, for example, whisk(e)y, rum, calvados or cognac, even more exciting aromatic nuances are added. The new generation of master brewers is increasingly dedicated to the aromas and chemical reactions that vanillin, tannin, hemicellulose and the like mean for beer.


Barrels in Michigan

An exciting experience for any brewing enthusiast is a visit to Founders Brewery in Rapid Falls, Michigan. In 2002, the brewery began a sophisticated barrel-aging programme that quickly became the brewery’s flagship. Founders calls an impressive 25,000 barrels its own. The majority are stored 30 metres underground in a de-commissioned gypsum mine. This is where their successful beers mature, such as the Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS), an imperial stout that matures in bourbon barrels. Or the Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS), whose barrels were previously filled with maple syrup. Numerous experimental brews are stored in the barrels and the team at Founders get to find out how sour beers develop in former Islay barrels or what aromatic surprises arise when a barrel was previously filled with soy sauce.


Inspired by the USA

In Germany, too, master brewers are increasingly exploring the fascination of wood. The US law stating that barrels for bourbon and rye whiskey have to be new provides a good supply for American brewers who like to deploy the used white oak barrels. But many barrels also come to Europe and become containers for Scottish single malt, Irish whiskey and sometimes European beers. In addition, there are German and French oak types, each with their own aromatic profiles, which means immense diversity for the beverage industry.


Barrel specialists such as Wilhelm Eder have already made a name for themselves and offer a variety of barrel options. From small, bar-ready containers for barrel-aged cocktails to reconditioned, pre-packed barrels for distillates and beers – the range is extensive.


Barrel-aged specialities in North and South

The proper handling of barrels has to be learnt and some German brewers have already developed plenty of expertise and are producing outstanding barrel-aged beers. In Hamburg, the specialities care of the creative brewery Kehrwieder have recently caused a stir. Oliver Wesseloh proves to have an excellent hand and so the barrel-aged beers always sell out fast. The “South Islay” Imperial Russian Stout from a Laphroaig cask is wonderful as is the Seaport XV – a Belgian-style beer matured for over 2 years in Sauternes and Muscatel casks.



The Sander brewery from Worms brings beer culture to the heart of the Rheinhessen wine region. Ulrich Sander brews, among other things, wonderful “bock beers” and his customers are able to experience how great a bock beer tastes when it spends some time in a former rum barrel. However, the combination of stout with bourbon barrels also proved a resounding success.



In Berlin, Berliner Weisse is experiencing a well-deserved revival. Master brewer Oli Lemke, the head of Braumanufaktur Lemke, is passionate about the many facets of this beer style, whose acidity offers a special sensory feature. The brand succeeds in marrying it with fruit and, more recently, has also mastered the challenge of refining the sour Weisse in wooden barrels. His “Königin Luise” is brewed with 8% alcohol by volume and matured in wood. Dedicated to the Prussian queen, this beer in its elegant large bottle is a royal pleasure.



In 2020, Thomas Tyrell founded an exciting project under the name “Tyrell Braukunstatelier” at the cooperative brewery on the Börnicke estate in Brandenburg. A brewing engineer he previously impressed with his brews at Stone Brewing in Berlin and is now devoting himself to the phenomenon of beers with maturation potential. Of course, a pilsner and a helles should be drunk as fresh as possible, but more and more connoisseurs and restaurateurs are discovering the fascination of beers that mature for a long time, are storable and thus develop more and more complexity. Wooden barrels play an important role in this, as Tyrell knows. His Coconut Porter on acacia wood and his Barley Wine, matured on cognac wood, are already tasty and will reward those patient enough to store the bottle for another five or more years.



Some barrels then find their way back to a distillery and the whisky industry, in particular, has recently surprised drinkers with exciting distillates matured in Stout or India Pale Ale barrels.


So we feel we can tweak that old adage and say: Beer matured in wood – you’re all good!




© Kehrwieder South Islay

© Braumanufaktur Lemke

© Tyrell Braukunstatelier