Town Hall Brewery’s 2023 Barrel-Aged Event Preview
A lot of people associate February with love, romance, and a lustful focus on something special. I am the same way. There is nothing quite more titillating and bewitching than the first sip of a beer that has been resting in a barrel in a temperature-controlled room for countless months. All the while this beer is resting, it is cared for and observed by a brewer, whose focus and patience rivals that of a person attempting to put together an Ikea entertainment center sans instructions. Is there any other truer form of love? You can keep your chocolate truffles, chalky Maalox heart candies, and complicated undergarments-just give me Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Event.
Town Hall Brewery’s 2023 Barrel-Aged Event will go from February 13th-25th at their Minneapolis location. This year, the event will span two weeks and include two sold out beer dinners. Throughout the duration of this homage to craft and wonder, Town Hall Brewery will release 16 different barrel-aged beers.
Barrel-Aged Event Preview Brunch
On Saturday, February 4th, I previewed some of the beers that are releasing this year for the Barrel-Aged Event. Hoops explains that this is the first year that they opened a preview like this up to the public. “We’ve been relatively tight-lipped over the years. This year w are going to be more open.” During that sneak peek, I sample a flight of 3 wonderful beers and a hearty brunch. While we were all eating and sipping, Mike Hoops and Derek Brown explained a lot about the process of barrel-aging and answered questions from the crowd.
There’s Whiskey in the Char
For the first time ever, I got to smell American White Oak barrel staves that were in various stages of char: untouched, toasted, and charred. This fascinated me more than the wizardry of getting cheese into the crust of a pizza. The difference in the aromas of each different stage help me understand how barrel-aged beer takes on flavor and nuance.
The untouched oak stave smells like you would expect; woody and fresh. The toasted wood has a darker color, that closely resembles a caramel. The aroma is toasty, but not burnt. I can only imagine that the charred stave would have a lot more smoky and burnt aromas. It was wrapped in plastic because Hoops didn’t want us getting ash all over the place. I hate going to a beer thing and coming home looking like an extra from the Mary Poppins Chimney Sweep dance number.
Barrel-Aged Flight Sample
Once we are done learning about how the staves work, it is time to get into the beers. The three beers we get to try are the 100% Malted Rye Barrel, Manhatten Reserve, and the Double Barrel Czar Jack. In my humble opinion, flights are the way to go during the Barrel-Aged Event at first. This way, you can zero in on what you want a full pour of and still experience all the wonderful options.
100% Malted Rye Barrel
This beer is a blend of a Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Grand Cru, and Eye of the Storm. This beer clocks in at 14% ABV and has wonderful spirit barrel, floral, and buttery chardonnay aromas. The barrel that they used for this is “a very special 100% malted rye whiskey barrel from a Kentucky distiller” and will hopefully be available in the future. At first, I get a lot of the vanilla notes along with notes of Chardonnay. However, as it warms, the cherries and toffee are more prominent in the flavor. This beer releases on Tuesday, February 21st.
Our second beer is a familiar favorite to me. Manhatten Reserve is a Belgian-style Grand Cru aged on Michigan tart cherries before going into barrels. This beer is inspired by the whiskey-based Wisconsin cocktail. The origin story of this beer is quite charming.
Aside from Manhatten Reserve being one of the first beers that Town Hall Brewery ever put into a barrel, it has familial roots for Mike. His Father-in-Law’s cocktail of choice is something called a “Mutti-Hutti”-a southern Upper Peninsula version of a Manhatten that is composed of Brandy, cherry juice, and Sweet Vermouth. I can say that I have met Mike’s lovely wife, Nicole many times and I am sure that her dad is quite the wonderful human. Of course, it will come as no surprise that Manhatten Reserve is a favorite and point of pride for Mike’s Father-in-Law. Now, I don’t recommend playing cribbage for money after a full pour of Manhatten Reserve because this sipper is 13% ABV and you will be out more quarters than a Wells Fargo.
This beer drinks like liquid cherry pie. It is such a nice and easy sipper. Manhatten Reserve releases on Tuesday, February 14th. So, you can celebrate with your sweetheart at the bar for Valentines day at a table for two or embrace Singles’ Awareness Day sitting at the bar with your thoughts. Either way, you will be in for a treat with this Barrel-Aged mainstay.
Double Barrel Czar Jack
The final of our three beers in the flight is a decadent, dark chocolate delight. Czar Jack was the first barrel-aged beer at Town Hall Brewery. It also won a gold medal at the 2001 Great American Beer Festival in the Experimental Beer category. Czar Jack is Jack Frost, an imperial stout, aged in a Jack Daniels barrel. Fun fact, the first Jack Daniels barrel was procured by knocking on the door at the distillery. A handshake and 55 dollars plus shipping got that vessel up to Minneapolis. The rest is a rich history.
The Double Barrel means that this beer reached full maturity in two separate barrels before being selected for harvest. In other words-the best of the best. Being that this beer has so much going on, you need to let it warm. If you can be patient, your palate will reap the rewards of flavors of molasses, plums, dark chocolate, and Medjool Dates. You also want to make sure that there are no open flames nearby or you might be recruited into the circus as a fire breather because this beer is 15% ABV. Don’t fret, it drinks smooth and warm as opposed to too hot and jarring. This releases on Monday, February 20th and will go really fast.
The Full List of Barrel-Aged Beers
Here is the list of the barrel-aged beers. You will see some old favorites and some new offerings. I love that the list is different each and every year. While the barrels are resting Mike and Derek continue to innovate and evolve what we drink thanks to the endless support of owner Pete Rifakes. In fact, I got to try the Molé stout last year before it went into barrels and it was stellar. Pete eluded to the fact that it might crack the starting lineup this year for the Barrel-Aged Event.
Barrel-Aged Event Week 1
Barrel Crew Select-Monday, February 13th
Pre-Pan Single Barrel Tripel, Cherry Orchard MC, & Molé In A Barrel
Dessert in a barrel-Tuesday, February 14th
Manhatten Reserve & Kentucky Truffle
Sit back and sip-Wednesday, February 15th
W.L. Bourbon ButterBall & Wine Barrel Bruin
Flight night-Thursday, February 16th
Czar Jack & Twisted Trace
Barrel-Aged Event Week 2
Double Barrel-Monday, February 20th
Double Barrel Czar Jack, Double Barrel Twisted Trace, & Double Barrel Xtra Milk Stout
Eye for a rye-Tuesday, February 21st
100% Malted Rye Barrel & Rye Not Belgian Grand
a wee bit more-Wednesday, February 22nd
You can see that each night has a theme. I also want to note that on each Thursday of the Barrel-Aged Event, one can get $2 dollars off of a flight. Another pro-tip is buying the Barrel Aged Passport for $5. If you get the passport, you can get stamps each time you enjoy a beer. These stamps can qualify you for food and drink rewards. At the end of the Barrel-Aged Event, a Pint Club Membership is being raffled off and if you got the passport filled out, you can enter the raffle!
Simply The Best
Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Event is not to be missed. On the surface, the event showcases wonderful flavors and textures of special beers. However, this process takes decades to perfect. As aspects of the barrel marketplace and quality of how barrels are handled change, Town Hall Brewery’s process remains steadfast and measured. When Hoops was first getting into the challenge of barrel-aging beer, he said that someone presented it to him as a puzzle. Patience, dedication, and persistence are all traits one has to possess to puzzle effectively. Hoops and his Head Brewer, Derek Brown, certainly are masters in their craft when it comes to this delicate art.
Brown also loves the challenge of barrel-aging, although he is quick to point out how fraught with peril the process can be. “Most brewers’ nightmare is making high-ABV beers.” Factors that Brown cites as being a challenge when brewing big beers are ensuring yeast health and cellaring. When you know that, the high level of success and quality in the beers showcased during Town Hall’s Barrel-Aged Event is even more impressive.
So, hopefully you will be attending Town Hall Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Event for at least one day to enjoy all the liquid perfection that will be pouring from February 13th-25th. I know I will be there multiple times. If you see me, stop by and say hello! Cheers!