“A well-made stout aged in a freshly dumped bourbon barrel is a match made in heaven,” says Matt Brynildson, brewmaster of Firestone Walker in Paso Robles, Calif. “The flavors developed through, and left behind in, the bourbon spirit-aging process marry perfectly with the roasty coffee and rich, chocolate-like malt character of an imperial stout.” Firestone Walker was among the first breweries to ignite the popularity of bourbon barrel-aged stouts in the aughts and 2010s, with its excellent Parabola and yearly Anniversary Ale.
Another pioneer was Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co., which invented the genre in 1992 (although the year is apparently up for debate). Then-brewmaster Greg Hall had the idea to put stout into an emptied Jim Beam barrel, hoping the characteristics of barrel and beer would meld to create something truly special. It worked, of course, and the result was Bourbon County Brand Stout, now one of the most important craft beers ever, whose enduring appeal continues to top charts nearly 30 years later.
Few things excite a beer drinker more than the union of bourbon barrel and stout. So, we reached out to 13 brewers across the country, some of whom produce brands considered prime examples of the category, to recommend their favorites. Here’s what they had to say.
The Best Barrel-Aged Stouts Recommended by Brewers
- Revolution Brewing Deth’s Tar Barrel-Aged Oatmeal Stout
- The Bruery Chocolate Rain
- Cycle Brewing Rare DOS 2
- Olde Hickory, Duck Rabbit, and Foothills Brewing Olde Rabbit’s Foot
- Elevation Beer Company Oil Man
- Voodoo Brewery Pappy Van Winkle Black Magick
- Kane Brewing A Night To End All Dawns
- The Bruery Black Tuesday
- Moksa Brewing Company Singularity: Weller12
- Side Project Brewing 5 Candles
- Other Half and Horus Aged Ales Barrel Aged Double Drupe
- New Holland Dragon’s Milk
- Burial Beer Seasoned Skillet
Keep reading for details about all of the recommended bottles!
“It’s nearly impossible to single out just one bourbon barrel-aged stout that I love. I’ve come across so many delicious interpretations of this wide-open style here in the States and abroad. A center for excellent barrel-aged stout activity is Chicago, and one brewing duo that continuously impresses me with their barrel-aging program is Jim Cibak and Marty Scott of Revolution Brewing. Look no further than their barrel-aged oatmeal stout, Deth’s Tar. The beers that they produce are meticulously put together and perfectly layered through thoughtful formulation and blending. A key to a good barrel-aging program is a good blending palate and I’m blown away with the flavors these guys put together.” —Matt Brynildson, Brewmaster, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, Calif.
“When it comes to bourbon barrel-aged beers, the first brewery that comes to mind is the Bruery. One of my favorites is the iconic Chocolate Rain. The employing of cocoa nibs and fresh vanilla beans is a decadent mix of bold and balanced sweetness that counters the richness of the barrel perfectly. It’s a big beer, around 20 percent — perfect for sharing around the holidays and one of my all-time favorites.” —Jason Zinn, Co-owner, Sandbox Brewing Company, Montclair, Calif.
“Cycle Brewing has, in my mind, always knocked it out of the park with its barrel-aged imperial stouts and Rare DOS 2 highlights founder Doug Dozark and crew’s deftness. My husband and I became ardent fans after enjoying Cream and Sugar, Please and subsequently regular Rare DOS at Peg’s Cantina in Gulfport, Fla., shortly after they were able to begin brewing on site. The sublime rich, warm notes from the two years of aging in Maker’s Mark barrels refracts the subtle oxidation and thick mouthfeel, showcasing expert wort production alongside barrel-whispering.” —Leslie Shore, Lead Brewer, Reuben’s Brews, Seattle
“The best also happened to be a collaboration that lasted a few years between three North Carolina breweries: Olde Hickory, Duck Rabbit, and Foothills. Each was given a number of bourbon barrels in which they made their own imperial stout to condition. Then all of the barrels were brought to one facility, blended together, and packaged under the label Olde Rabbit’s Foot. It was an outstanding beer, with beautiful balance between bourbon and rich, velvety stout. And it showed a well-thought collaboration project between friends in the industry.“ —Erik Lars Myers, Head Brewer and Director of Beverage Operations, Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, N.C.
“I stopped at Elevation Beer Company on a whim while road tripping from Chicago to southern Colorado. It turned out to be a fantastic whim — all the brews offered were great. Oil Man, however, left me deeply impressed. It has all the malty goodness with flavors of dark chocolate and coffee. The bourbon is more subtle, but not in a bad way. It was remarkably refreshing!” —Emily Kosmal, Brewer, Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago
“Thanks to some of the best friends anywhere, I‘ve been able to drink some amazing barrel-aged stouts over the years. Picking just one can be hard, but none of them stick out more than Voodoo’s Pappy Van Winkle Black Magick. The overall balance is what has always captivated me. It‘s sweet, but not overtly so, with lots of freshly mixed brownie batter and butterscotch flavors. The silky feel melds so well with the rich Pappy bourbon character without overpowering the other flavors. Truly one of the best barrel-aged stouts ever made, and so glad I’ve been lucky enough to try it.” —Nate Bell, Head Cellarman, Pizza Boy Brewing, Enola, Pa.
“I think it was 2014 when I first had A Night To End All Dawns by Kane. I remember thinking it was the perfect mix of what I liked best about Founders KBS and Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: more viscous than KBS, and less boozy than Bourbon County. It was strong, thick, and roasty yet drinkable. No need for any adjuncts here.” —Tim Bouton, Owner, Conclave Brewing, Flemington, N.J.
“Maybe I’m slightly biased given that I’m a former brewer at The Bruery, but I have yet to come across a beer of this style that stands up to the acclaim Black Tuesday deserves. It is the epitome of what I think the style should encompass. It has a HUGE sweet bourbon character, with vanilla and coconut flavors that are unbelievable. Yet you still get those chocolate and coffee notes that you expect from a stout that come through as well. Not to mention it is way too smooth and drinkable at 20 percent ABV.” —Bret Gordon, President and Head Brewer, Lumberbeard Brewing, Spokane, Wash.
“The thing I love about Singularity: Weller12 is that this bourbon barrel-aged stout was designed to be released with absolutely no adjuncts. The base is thick but just enough to balance the alcohol picked up from its time in the Weller barrel. The Moksa crew tastes through all the barrels and selects the very best to be bottled as Singularity. Decadent, thoughtful, and executed beautifully, this is a great expression of just beer and barrel, a simple and pure union that sometimes gets lost in these ingredient-crazy times.” —Ryan Alvarez, Head Brewer, Harland Brewing Co., San Diego
“I had the opportunity to try 5 Candles from Side Project at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting fest and it was fantastic. So smooth with rich chocolate flavors and it was served still (no carbonation) to really enhance the viscosity. I’ve had chewy beers before, but this one took the cake (no pun intended). It was uber decadent and not a beer you want to approach if you’re counting calories.” —Mark Safarik, Brewmaster, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del.
“The one that keeps coming to mind is the Barrel Aged Double Drupe, a collaboration between Other Half and Horus Aged Ales. I was very impressed by the balance and flavors of this stout. The bourbon character melded wonderfully with the smooth stout base and adjuncts, creating a caramel-bourbon-pecan-coconut-chocolate goodness of sorts that’s hard to describe. Sooo delicious, and expertly crafted by these two producers, as always.” —Keigan Knee, Co-founder and Director of Product Development, Modist Brewing Company, Minneapolis
“In a market where everything is executed to extremes — super-hazy IPAs! fruited milkshake sours! pastry-packed, boozy stouts! — a well-balanced big beer really stands out to me. And when you can build special releases and varietals around that solid base beer, it’s even better. That’s why my favorite is Dragon’s Milk from New Holland. It’s offered year-round, and tastes balanced, and not like bourbon with a side of stout. Always in for that. And I enjoy most of the variants New Holland does with it.” —Jenna Muñoz, Assistant Brewer, Fields & Ivy Brewery, Lawrence, Kan.
“Intense but not unbalanced, sweet but not cloying, everything is just where it needs to be: Burial Beer’s Seasoned Skillet, the result of blending conditioned versions of the brewery’s popular Skillet Donut Stout that is then finished with coffee. [It] is not only an exceptional bourbon barrel-aged stout. It also showcases their crew’s remarkable range, which in this case lands on the more extreme side of their portfolio.” —Greg Doroski, Innovations Director, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, Greenport, N.Y.