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Beer Buzz: Barrel-aged bonanza

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It's been an eclectic week for Indiana craft.

We visited Mad Anthony Brewpub in Fort Wayne and talked with brewer Jeremy Weber about regulars and specials that continue their appeal into Mad Anthony's 15th anniversary. We again enjoyed the refreshing Summer Haze, a wheat and clover honey seasonal with a hint of caramel. We admired the new fermenter that's helping supply increased demand from the recently opened Mad Anthony's Lakeview Alehouse and Reception in Angola. But it's made Mad Anthony's 15-barrel Bohemian copper brew house an even tighter fit. Assistant brewer Chris Nix quips that even a tour group of two has to step gingerly. Tighter yet is the original 500 square foot brew house where specialty beers now are brewed.

We learned Half Moon in Kokomo is offering an unusual seasonal. The Funky Dunkel is a malty chocolaty brown-style beer with an underlying flavor of bananas and cloves. It's holding its own against the new line up of hoppy brews that are sidling up to quieter session beers as summer quenchers.

But the surprise is the greater numbers of barrel-aged specials. Brewers are setting aside an original brew to age in a barrel for anywhere between three months to a year. At the Microbrewer's Festival Sun King offered its LoneSome Dove Barrel Aged Tripel. Flat 12 continued its invitation to compare a beer against its barrel-aged counterpart with its gin-barrel aged Cucumber Kolsch. Zwanzigz poured Barrel-Aged Ghost Chili Pepper Stout and Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale.

The RAM now has its State Fair Brewers' Guild award-winning RAMAGEDDON series on tap as a barrel-aged version. In the 2013 Brewers' Cup Final, Countdown Imperial IPA earned Gold after aging in Buffalo Trace whiskey barrels, while Apocalypto Barleywine took Bronze after spending time in a Jack Daniels whiskey barrel.

But what really elicits smiles from RAM head brewer Andrew Castner and assistant brewer Chris Knott are the Strong Ale style wins for the original Apocalypto recipes - gold in the 2012 Brewers' Cup followed by Silver in 2013. Doomsday Scenario Imperial Red Ale was aged in Buffalo Trace whiskey barrels, while Endgame Imperial Stout was aged in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels.

Though these big beers earn accolades from most of the patrons, for me the nod goes to the mellower Big Horn Oktoberfest that overwintered in a W.H. Harrison Bourbon Barrel. Now its smooth malty-ness is heightened with waves of butterscotch, caramel and oak. You can try a sample of all five on tap at the RAM downtown and in Fishers.

A couple more notes: Celebrating IPA Day, Crown Brewing's huge Special Forces IPA was right in line with Kahn's annual summer hoppy fete on July 27. And Munster-based Three Floyds gained still more international recognition by winning the Dublin Beer Cup Award for Zombie Dust American Pale Ale.

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