Saturday, 21 April 2012

Oak Exploration Summary

I thought I'd do a bit of a summary of my oak exploration. I might well be turning the beer/wine geek dial up past ten, but I'm just trying to get my thoughts clear on it in order to aid my understanding of how oak works.

Oak can easily overpower a subtle wine and I'd suggest that that this is no different to beer. If you brewed a simple, neutral-flavoured beer and matured it in a small, new oak, barrel, it's a simple fact that the flavours will be drawn more from the barrel than the beer.

Although oaky wines, ie. wines whose flavours have been overpowered by oak, aren't generally considered to be the best quality - and I don't mean faulty - that's not to say that there aren't people who will like them. 1  Again I think there's a direct parallel with beer. I'd suggest that here is a question as to what the goal is in brewing a beer which is going to take on so much oak character that whatever original flavours it did have are overpowered. Some oak-aged beers may well be well-made, in the same sense that mass-produced market leaders are free of faults, but that doesn't make them multi-faceted beers of character, and that's not just a subjective matter of personal taste.

Some of this seems somewhat incongruous when you consider that some of the world's finest wines, including many, if not all of the first growth chateaux in Bordeaux aren't averse to using new oak. However, as I tried to explain my understanding of it here, there's much more to this than a simple imparting of oak flavours. As is suggested in the Oxford Companion to Wine:
Within a given type and style of wine, the richest wines will absorb the most oak with positive effects2 
Finally back to beer. There are certain styles that seem more suited to oak ageing, and within those styles it is the beers with the most robust character that appear not only stand up to oak ageing, but flourish because of it.

Now the plan for the weekend is to actually drink some of the stuff. I have it on authority from The Reluctant Scooper himself that BrewDog have got some oak aged beer on tap. Surely an appropriate starting point. Thanks for reading and I hope the wine references haven't put you off too much. Comments and observations are always appreciated.

1. Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd ed.) p. 491. I've also put the reference to 'oaky' as a tasting term in my post about oak chips and wine here. 
2. Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd ed.) p. 775. 

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