Ageing beer in barrels is increasingly popular among commercial craft brewers looking at adding a complexity, a certain amount of whim, and just to have some fun. It’s not a new thing, of course, beer was traditionally kept in wooden barrels, but this is a new era of experimentation.

Barrels that once contained tequila, sherry, bourbon and burgundy are snapped up by brewers to put their beers in. The market for used barrels is vibrant and demand high. Homebrewers can readily buy them, but at a price. A good alternative is to add oak chips or spirals to the secondary fermenter. The lightest touch is probably from American oak chips which is a good starting place. But you can easily get hold of chips that have been soaked in bourbon or sherry. Of course, you can soak the chips in anything you fancy.

Using oak chips, and especially ageing in barrels, is a matter of trial, error and accurate recording. It’s one of the most unpredictable aspects in brewing, but that’s why it is such good fun. Buy some chips, make something dark and try it.


Dark and strong beers (over 5%) fare best when ageing (in wood or fermenter). Partly because it can stand the time, but also, the dominant flavour from oak is vanilla – delicious in a stout. In fact, any beers that have a good punch of chocolate and coffee notes work well with ageing in barrels or with oak chips. Imperial stouts and porters are perfect for it. Strong lighter coloured beers work too. Barley wines of course, but maybe big IPAs and double IPAs, can be aged. Lambics too are traditionally aged for up to three years and often blended with younger beers.