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Aged beer a growing trend, driving up barrel prices for breweries

PHOENIX — A growing trend in craft beer is becoming an expensive proposition for craft breweries around the country, and the same goes for those in Arizona.

Aging beer in oak barrels, similar to those used to age wine and spirits such as whiskey, is becoming more popular among craft breweries; however, as more breweries try their hand at the technique, the price of those barrels has quickly risen.

“Barrels are a great way to impart a lot of really rich, unique flavor into your beer,” said Drew Pool, co-owner of Westward Brewing Company, which will soon open its doors at 24th Street and Oak Street in Phoenix.

Pool said he has seen the prices of barrels roughly double during the last few years.

“I think the average price now (for) some single-use bourbon barrels, for example … are around $200 a piece,” he said.

Prices could top $500 depending on the quality and type of the barrel, according to Pool — and when adding the cost to ship the barrels to the brewery, taxes and the four-to-six months of storage while the beer ages, he said these kinds of specialty beers can be difficult to turn good profits on.

Pool said increases in demand for barrels by an emerging customer base of new breweries and expansion of existing breweries is helping to drive up demand, and therefore the price.

“Since there are so many new guys in the game opening up, like ourselves, and then some of the more notable guys getting bigger and expanding their operations (and) acquiring more barrels, you know as the little guys we’re going to pay more per barrel,” he said.

Oak barrels used to age beer are typically 53-gallon bourbon barrels. When Westward Brewery gets closer to its opening date, Pool said he expects to have anywhere from 20 to 40 barrels aging beer at any given time.

Pool said aging beer is a unique specialty item and most breweries still need to rely on other quality and more easily produced beers to sustain their business. However, producing great specialty beers that win awards is also a great way to boost business.

Most importantly, though, Pool said he and his partners simply want to brew beers they enjoy.

“We’re kind of in it for the passion of the business and really producing great beers that we enjoy drinking,” he said.