When Chris Schofield and Matt Mills started Barreled Souls and poured their first beers in 2014, they were still a full year out from serving a barrel aged beer. The brewery and taproom in Saco are distinct in that it ferments all of its beer in oak barrels, a technique first pioneered in Burton-on-Trent England in the 1800s, but fermentation and aging are two different things. It wasn’t until the one-year anniversary party that they were able to unveil their first three barrel aged beers. Now the taproom regularly features two or more barrel aged offerings on draft alongside a variety of other styles, all of which are being executed admirably.
From the start, Schofield and Mills have been passionate about centering the project on barrel aged offerings, and now with a few years under their belts, we’re regularly savoring the fruits. When I stopped in last week they served me two different barrel aged versions of Deep Space, an Imperial Stout, one aged in Hillrock Farms' bourbon barrels, the other in tequila barrels. In many ways, the experience — having two versions of the same beer aged in different barrels — encapsulated what the entire Barreled Souls project has been about from the beginning. The differences in the beers were immediately striking and fascinating. The bourbon aged stout carried figgy, raisiny notes alongside the characteristic charred vanilla. The tequila barrel version threw vegetal agave and a remarkable associative salinity that cut the sweetness of the stout. Between sips, we talked clean barrel aging.
Gene Beck from Nocturnem Draft Haus at the Barreled Souls Brewery concocting a Rocky Road White Stout with cocoa nibs, amaretto, and marshmallow fluff.
What different types of barrels are you using for aging?
Chris: This most recent release, Deep Space, we had three different types of bourbon barrels, and then a tequila version and a rum barrel version.
What types of beers are best suited to oak aging, and do you find certain styles of beer do better in certain types of barrels?
Matt: One thing we’ve definitely noticed is that the freshness of the barrel matters. Now we get almost all our stuff from Hillrock [Farms, a small, family-owned distillery in Poughkeepsie New York] because we literally get the barrel the same week that it’s been emptied. We’ve also discovered that some of our barleywines and wheat wines taste really good in rum barrels, but that seems to be everyone’s least favorite barrel when it comes to the stouts. So we try to do side-by-side comparisons because we like to see what difference the barrel displays in the beer directly.
Chris: It’s like pairing food and wine or anything, some things work better together than others. Bourbon and dark beers, and then the lighter beers -- we have a blonde barleywine coming out, and honeypot that we make with honey -- those seem to do better in a variety of barrels.
You mentioned you’re sourcing a lot from Hillrock, how do those relationships happen? Where did you first start looking around for a stock of barrels you could use?
Chris: In the beginning, it was a lot of Matt just calling around to everybody he liked and seeing who responded!
Matt: Yeah it’s changed pretty dramatically, six years ago when we first wrote our business plan, we contacted Buffalo Trace and they were like “yep, you can get whatever you want, just let us know, barrels are $62”. And then two years down the line when we opened, all those big distillers now won’t even deal with a brewery directly, it’s all done through a broker. So Hillrock was just a great bourbon I’d had. They’ve been easy to work with to get stuff when we want it. They’re really small, been around for about 5 years now. They grow all their own grain and all their own corn, and they malt it all. It’s nice to know exactly what we’re getting, and when we’re getting it.