Brewer’s Perspective: Barrel-Aging Stouts the Kane Way

Michael Kane, founder of Kane Brewing, explains their patient and intentional approach to barrel-aging imperial stouts, including the award-winning A Night to End All Dawns—from selecting barrels to tasting and finishing.

Michael Kane Dec 20, 2021 - 7 min read

Brewer’s Perspective: Barrel-Aging Stouts the Kane Way Primary Image

Photo: Matt Graves

For Kane Brewing in Ocean, New Jersey, the bourbon barrel–aged imperial stout A Night to End All Dawns has become A Beer to Win All Medals. Its gold in 2020 was the beer’s third medal at the Great American Beer Festival; it also won gold in 2014 and silver in 2018, plus a World Beer Cup gold medal in 2016. Those accolades speak volumes—this is a beer and a brewery highly respected by peers. Here, founder Michael Kane goes into detail about their barrel-aging program.

On Brewing Specifically for Barrel-Aging

We brew specific recipes for our barrel-aged beers, rather than splitting off a portion of a batch for oak. This approach allows us to build a recipe that is intended for aging—with higher residual sugars and longer boils to concentrate the gravity—to extract flavors that come with time.

Coming off fermentation, the beers destined for barrels generally are out of balance and in need of time—bitterness needs to mellow, sweetness needs oak tannin to balance, and alcohols need time to mellow and esterify. We usually look for a more chocolate-forward profile in our finished barrels. To achieve this, we’ll use a relatively large portion of British chocolate-level roast malts. We generally increase the percentage of these malts as the residual sugar of the recipe increases. These higher levels of roast malts generally don’t work quite as well in a beer without time in barrel.

On Sourcing and Selecting Barrels with Intention

Because these are some of our favorite styles of beers, and we’ve been brewing barrel-aged beer since the beginning, we established a few relationships early on with certain distilleries to source barrels directly from them. We would also drive down to Kentucky to source barrels from several distilleries at a time—loading our truck up with about 50 barrels per trip and driving them back to New Jersey.


We will have the recipe profile built and choose barrels that we think fit best with our intentions on a given beer. For example, if we brew a version of A Night to End All Dawns that we intend to have a higher residual sweetness, to put away for extended aging—that’s 24 to 36 months—we might choose bourbon barrels with a higher age statement, in hopes that the spirit might have extracted more of the raw oak notes. This allows us to age a bit longer to achieve desirable oxidative profiles—chocolate, nougat, prune—without over-extracting wood notes.

If we encounter a more unique barrel—such as maple syrup, cognac, Pineau des Charentes—we will often use these as secondary (or double) barrels as opposed to primary barrels. We prefer to layer some of the top notes of these fruitier barrels over the mellowing that’s uniquely achieved from American whiskey barrels. Also, using character barrels for double-barreling allows us to choose a blend profile geared toward that barrel’s attributes.

On Aging Times and Blending

Much of this depends on a brewer’s barrel stock, approach to blending, physical environment, and changes in temperature. We generally taste through all the barrels that could be candidates for a given blend—typically nothing younger than 12 months in oak.

We’ll start with the oldest, most characterful barrels, which are usually between 20 and 36 months old. These barrels will have a huge depth of flavor, with tons of chocolate, cocoa, bourbon, and coconut, but they also can be dried out from many seasons in oak. We’ll then look to some of the more mid-aged beers, between 16 and 20 months, that will be more well-rounded—these help to provide more nuanced complexity to the blend. At 10 to 16 months, younger barrels can help freshen up the beer—they’ll have more body and can help balance the overall profile.


Much of the success in blending comes down to understanding your stock and how it ages over time. A barrel of A Night to End All Dawns may be slightly smoky with a lighter body at 16 months—but the same barrel at 24 months has mellowed, with a velvety chocolate profile. Knowing the profile and development of a recipe over time takes many repetitions and great note-taking, but that can lead to a much clearer understanding of your barrel stock at any given time.

On Barrel-Aging and Balancing Stouts with Flavored Adjuncts

We target a base for our adjuncted barrel-aged beers to reinforce the flavor profile of the finished beer. If we are using coconut as an adjunct, we’ll select barrels with that character present, or else blend to create a beer that supports those flavors.

We aim for balance, to make sure the barrel-aged components come through in the finished beer and don’t get totally overshadowed by the additional ingredients. Some of the more nuanced flavors from barrel-aging can easily get lost in a heavily adjuncted beer. We’ll usually come up with a concept and work our way back, thinking through the intensities of the different components rather than picking ingredients and trying to turn them into a beer.

We spend a significant amount of time trialing new ingredients and sourcing ingredients from different vendors, in order to ensure top quality. We source whole vanilla beans from different regions and spend a lot of time processing them especially for our use. We roast coconut in-house, get freshly roasted coffee from a local roastery, etcetera, to make sure all the flavors taste authentic.

Finishing Barrel-Aged Stouts—and Planning for the Next

All our barrel-aged beers are cold-aged in stainless once they come out of the barrels. After all the barrels are racked into a tank, we allow them to condition for four to six weeks cold, to mellow and come together, so they are ready to drink out of the bottle as soon as they are released.

Finally, since most of these beers are aged for 18 to 24 months after fermentation, it’s important to have a plan or vision for what you will be looking to release in two years. We continue to taste barrels and make any adjustments to recipe or process over time, to make sure we have the right quantity and quality of barrel stock for the beers we’re planning 12 to 18 months out.