Big beers are a big deal, and Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel Aged Week is one of the longest running big beer traditions in the metro. Since it first ran in 2001 as part of their Anniversary Week events, the West Bank brewpub has grown from one location to three, expanding their brewhouse into the sublevels of their current building at the corner of Washington and 15th Ave S. As grows the brewery, so grow the barreled beers.
Earlier this winter Town Hall announced plans to extend their barrel program into the year round schedule, with their Barrel Reserve series serving up some of the favorites across all 12 months instead of that one special week. The change simply means more barrel aged beer, not that Barrel Aged Week will go away.
The barrels are French oak used by a California winery to produce high quality pinot noir, then they were sent to a Kentucky distillery to age bourbon.
This year Barrel Aged Week takes place February 14-20, but it’s always been an evolution. In the early years it took place on Anniversary Week, but as head brewer Mike Hoops’ lust for the style grew, it became too big for partnering with that promotion. "We decided it could be its own special event," he says, choosing late February because big beers don’t just pair well with dinner, they’re a natural fit for the extreme Minnesota winter. Come February, people need excuses to break out of hibernation.
Year round, the Barrel Reserve series means a tapline dedicated to a single barrel-aged beer. Barrel Week will remain the big moment, the showcase of the best and brightest. "Barrel Aged Week will always be the highlight of our program regardless of the new Barrel Reserve line," Hoops says, as well as the payoff for a year of hard work in perfecting those beers.
Czar Jack, Twisted Trace, and Buffalo Bock have all won awards at the Great American Beer Festival, as well as being hits here at home. As the program expands, Hoops balances making those popular but limited beers with new creations. Another sign of its growth is that in 2016 Town Hall will feature 12 total barrel-aged beers, 6 of which are new. Previous years often showcased 5-6 offerings total. Of popular favorites, Czar Jack will not be offered this year as it didn’t barrel up to Town Hall’s satisfaction.
Of the new beers, four of them are the Trois Vies series, made with barrels first used for pinot noir, then bourbon, and now beer. Others are E.T. Wee (Hoops’ favorite of the bunch), and Cuvee of Consequence.
Barrel-aged beers have grown in popularity, Hoops suspects, because of the labor involved in the process, which leads to one-of-a-kind creations. "The 4 beers featured in the Trois Vies Series will be nearly impossible to recreate," he says, going into further depth. "The barrels are French oak used by a California winery to produce high quality pinot noir, then they were sent to a Kentucky distillery to age bourbon and, last, we snagged them to use for our four different beers. I suspect that schedule may never be available again."
It's flavor, aroma, ‘hand-craftedness’, quality, and simply enjoyment.
The beers can be impossible to reproduce, but Town Hall has shown exceptional success at the general process, repeating award winners every year while introducing popular new beers along the way. "The nuts and bolts are really the same," says Hoops, regardless of which brewery is doing it. The difference in final product is, of course, the beer, but also the conditions and the barrels’ lineage itself. Conditions such as the time between distillery and brewery, aging temperature and humidity, and pairing the right beer with the right barrel, are instrumental overall.
"People love beer and spirits right now. We are lucky to be able to combine some of the best characters of each into one product," he says, noting the popularity and also the level of enthusiasm from customers. While it’s an extra challenge, as the work is more hands-on than a typical batch of Masala Mama or H20 Oatmeal Stout, it’s been worth it for the brewery.
"I think consumers realize [the labor] and are seeking more from what they choose to spend their ‘recreational’ dollars on today. Whether it is flavor, aroma, ‘hand-craftedness’, quality, or simply enjoyment that they seek," he says, "barrel-aged beers provide all of those things."
As Town Hall extends their barreling program, another the next step would be bringing Barrel Reserve to other Town Hall locations, such as Town Hall Tap and Town Hall Lanes, both in south Minneapolis.
Barrel Aged Week Line-Up and Beer Releases
10 a.m., Sunday, February 14
Barrel-Aged Mini-Growler (750mL) Presale — quantities limited.
5 p.m., Monday, February 15
Trois Vie Series — "Barrels with Three Lives"
French oak barrels first housed in California Pinot Noir, then Kentucky bourbon and finally Town Hall beers.
• No.1 : Belgian Style Tripel
• No. 2: Belgian Style Quadrupel
• No. 3: Barleywine
• No. 4: Imperial Stout
5 p.m., Tuesday, February 16
Foolish Angel — Belgian Style Quadrupel aged in both Blanton’s and Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels.
Cuvee of Consequence — Strong Saison aged in California Chardonnay barrels, then finished with a touch of bitter orange peel.
5 p.m., Wednesday, February 17
Manhattan Reserve — Belgian Style Grand Cru with red tart cherries, aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels.
E.T. Wee — Scottish Style Wee Heavy aged in Elmer T. Lee Bourbon barrels.
5 p.m., Thursday, February 18
Project 3106 — Belgian Style Bruin aged with Belgian chocolate and kumquats in Four Roses Bourbon barrels.
Buffalo Bock — German Style Weizenbock aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels.
5 p.m., Friday, February 19
Maple Brownstone — American Style Double Brown with Town Hall’s brewmaster’s own maple syrup, aged in Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey barrels.
11 a.m. Saturday, February 20
Twisted Trace — Barleywine aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels.