Barrel-aging or cask-conditioning beer is the original method of storing and serving the stuff. Some aficionados are so passionate about the process that they often refer to barrel-aged brews as "real ale." We happen to be fans of beer in all its fermented forms, but we can't argue with the refined outcome of this age-old process. Not to mention the amped-up alcohol levels these brews take on.
Rather than the crisp, clean flavor you get from stainless steel and metal casks, these bourbon and oak barrels give the brews unique smoky qualities. Their bold flavors also make them an excellent choice for backyard barbecues.
Founder's Kentucky Breakfast at Sheffield's
This barrel-aged brew has breakfast in its name for a reason. The coffee-fueled beer pairs exceptionally well with hearty morning staples like buttermilk pancakes or bacon and eggs. And if you're the type to shun sustenance before noon, you'll love the Kentucky Breakfast's java-like qualities; it's a perfect replacement for your morning cup of the dark stuff.
Brian and Phil, or more affectionately known as Sheffield's "beer dudes," also recently opened a beer boutique in the back of the bar where they'll be offering 40 to 60 bottles along with a special food-pairing menu.
Oh Brother! at Map Room
Cask-conditioned ales are always in style at Bucktown's Map Room. The bar rotates its brews on a regular basis, so you never have a chance to get bored, either. The casks are kept in their own separate cooler, housed within Map Room's cellar.
Adding to the authentic flair, each barrel-aged brew is hand-pumped. Currently the bar is pouring Oh Brother! by Two Brothers. This Belgian-style brew, crafted with malt, sugar and non-traditional hops, has a hint of citrus and is just as good with light fare as it is on its own.
Bourbon Aviator Doppelbock at Goose Island
This one is about as sweet as it gets, with notes of caramel, molasses and even a slight hint of chocolate. Aged for 100 days in a bourbon barrel, this crimson-hued brew is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Hints of caramel and molasses give it that decadent kick, but the beer still maintains that bitter finish that we love. Pair it up with one of Goose Island's classic burgers or try the cheese flight to see which hand-crafted selections stack up against this bourbon-aged brew.
Allagash Odyssey at Hopleaf
With over fifty bottles of cask-conditioned brews by the bottle available at this Belgium-focused bar and restaurant, you may find yourself paralyzed by indecision. Situations like these call for methodology: when all else fails, drink your way through the list in alphabetic order.
At the top of that list is the Allagash Odyssey, aged in oak (and a portion in stainless steel) for over six months. The crew at Hopleaf recommends pairing the oaky brew with the restaurant's brisket sandwich or grilled boar chop, unlike poultry or fish, these heartier flavors hold their own with the bold taste of the Odyssey.