By Mike Augustyniak

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Small batch beer, or craft beer, is a huge trend — especially in Minnesota.

And now brewers are taking it to the next level.

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The new trend has beer aging the same way wine does: in barrels.

Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis is about to launch its Barrel-Aged Beer Week, and Natalie Nyhus and I got a preview of the rare beers.

“I’ve opened barrels before and something completely magical and different than I expected happened, and it’s like a kid in a candy store,” Town Hall’s head brewer Mike Hoops said.

In a one-hundred-year-old basement that used to house streetcars, a delicious science experiment is underway.

And Mike Hoops is the Mr. Wizard of beer.

“Working with barrels and aging beer is the most exciting part of my job,” Hoops said.

Natalie and I got right to work by testing out a Belgian beer that’s been resting in old tequila barrels, but isn’t quite ready to be released.

“I definitely smell and taste a little bit of citrus, orange, something like that,” Augustyniak said.

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Nine more are ready, though, and they’ll be released into the world next week. It’s the final step in a process that can take up to 18 months.

“We start with water and grain, and we make a beer. That beer ferments, goes inside of a barrel, hangs out. As long as it’s not bothered, it’s happy, and it comes out finished,” Hoops said.

The finished product takes on the taste and character of what was in the barrel before.

“Some of the flavors of that has penetrated the wood before we got it. We designed the beer to accent that character of the wood as well as maybe what was in there before,” he said. “These are pinot noir barrels, so you get that real kind of sappy, grapey character mixed in with the bourbon character, and it’s really splendid.”

Yes, yes it is. We tasted what came out of that barrel, which will be released on Monday at 5 p.m. as the “Manhattan Reserve.”

“In this case it’s another Belgian beer, that’s aged with red tart cherries, and then put inside of a bourbon barrel,” Hoops said. “A little bit tart, the cherry juice comes out. You get the bourbon behind the cherry a little bit.”

It is a little bit more like a cocktail.

“Beer has come a long ways. It’s no longer … simply yellow and fizzy. There’s a lot of complexity, and there’s a lot you can do with it,” Hoops said.

Barrel-Aged Beer Week is at Town Hall Brewery this week, starting Monday.

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They will release nine new beers over six days, and it’s free to attend. Click here for more information.

Mike Augustyniak