Beer Review: Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Narwhal

Name: Barrel-Aged Narwhal
Brewing Company: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 11.9%

An outstanding base stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels makes for a perfect beer.

From Sierra Nevada’s page for the beer:

Deep in our barrel room, out of light’s reach, our legendary Narwhal Imperial Stout rests in bourbon barrels for nearly a year. After aging, it emerges anew: rich with notes of oak, vanilla and coconut layered onto the Stout’s malt flavors of dark chocolate and espresso. Enjoy this beast of a beer.

This is a beer I’ve been hunting down for quite some time, basically since I knew it existed, because the annual big stout from Sierra Nevada is one of my top 10 beers of all time. Sometimes, the timing of things lead to serendipitous posts like this one: 2020 is Sierra Nevada’s 40th Anniversary, Sierra Nevada recently made this beer a year-round offering, and this beer is my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd, so how could I *not* review this beer?

As much as I was looking forward to this beer for years, I’ve also come to realize not all barrel-aged beers are blended/created equal. Additionally, I hadn’t had anything barrel-aged from Sierra Nevada. In short, I was worried that anticipation would lead to disappointment

It did not.

This beer pours motor-oil black, with a khaki/heavily creamed coffee head. As for the body of the beer, I’d even say there’s something about this beer that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this beer be? And the answer is none. None more black.

The aroma is largely from the bourbon barrels, but I do detect the hoppy/malty aromas I would typically associate with the non-Barrel Aged Narwhal. I thought to myself, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

That first sip is everything I hoped it would be. The barrel elements are very prominent and assertive, but far from everything this beer is. The base beer doesn’t typically have an overbearing carbonation and the carbonation is even less present on Barrel Aged Narwhal. In addition to the barrel character, the beer is largely the character I’d come to expect from the base Narwhal stout – big malt imparting sweetness, prominent hops imparting a bitter bite with subtle vanilla hints for a warm, balanced, grin-inducing finish that lingers wonderfully.

The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness is softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut.

* By “in-year” bottle I mean drinking a 2019 vintage of the beer in 2019, as opposed to a bottle that has sat for months to a year. I’ve had a couple bottles of Narwhal that were aged 2 and 3 years.

Something that makes this beer such a fun beer to enjoy is that the base beer Narwhal is fairly readily available for comparison. I’ve had Bourbon County Stout from AB InBev Chicago (A.K.A. Goos Island) but there’s no base beer available, same goes for So Happens Its Tuesday from the Bruery or even Parabola from Firestone Walker. In other words, you have a pretty good idea that you’re starting with in this beer.

I’ve always loved the label and font Sierra Nevada used for the beer for Narwhal, I was unhappy with the change they made in 2017 so I was pleased to see the same font treatment from the old label of the non-barrel aged version reappear on this canned version (and box of the 4-pack). I was especially pleased to see this beer go from the 22oz bomber to 16oz cans, a much easier single-sitting consumption.

Barrel-Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer of this style (Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, or even Imperial Stout) for this price point.

For further reading, there’s a great post on Sierra Nevada’s Blog about their barrel-aging program.

Highly, highly recommended, link to 5 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Beer Review: Guinness Open Gate Brewery’s Barrel Aged Stock Ale

Name: Barrel Aged Stock Ale
Brewing Company: Guinness Open Gate Brewery
Location: Halethorpe, MD
Style: Old Ale
ABV: 10%

A rich, boozy ale that brings together many flavor components in delicious way.

From the untappd page for the beer:

Fulsome, high gravity stout aged in bourbon barrels for several months. Then brewed a take on a barleywine style, with plenty of hops, and barrel aged it for a few weeks to mellow it out. This is a blend of these two separate beers.

Guinness is one of the largest breweries in the world, but their new(ish) Open Gate Brewery in Maryland is cranking out more than just the stouts you’d expect from the company that produces the world’s best selling stout. From what I’ve gathered, they are slowly releasing beers into distribution, last year it was a stout aged in Bulleit Bourbon Barrels and this year/this beer is similar in that it was aged in Bulleit Bourbon barrels.

Since the ginormous beverage conglomerate Diageo owns both Guinness and Bulleit, why not put that corporate synergy to use? That synergy produced their latest barrel aged project: an Old Ale, itself a style that isn’t too common here in the States. The style is often characterized by high alcohol, sweet molasses like flavor elements, and improvement with age – especially aging in barrels. This particular “Stock Ale” is a blend of stout and barleywine. I’ve had only a few beers that would be considered Old Ales and enjoy it so as soon as I saw this beer existed and was available near me, I had to get at least a bottle of it.

The label has the iconic harp from Guinness, with the distinctive orange banner seen on bottles of Bulleit Bourbon – corporate synergy! Opening the bottle and pouring the beer into the glass, a very pleasing smell hit my nose. Once in the glass, the beer is mahogany/reddish brown with a light khaki, light malted milk head. The aroma of the bourbon is very strong, along with an underlying sweetness. Again, this is not something I’d expect from Guinness having consumed hundreds of pints and bottles of their stout over the years.

The taste of the beer leads with bourbon, but then the elements of the stout and barleywine come into play. There’s minimal roast from the stout, a slight kiss of hops you’d expect from an American barleywine, too. What I was hoping to get in the full flavor profile soon arrived – a bite at the end. Maybe the most widely known Old Ales being Founder’s Curmudgeon and North Coast’s Old Stock, which are a big beers and they aren’t even barrel-aged. There’s a strong and pleasant earthiness to the style (at least from what I remember in Curmudgeon) that is toned down in Guinness’s Stock Ale compared to those other two beers. I got a little bit of the barrel notes on the finish, too.

I took my time with this beer given its relatively high ABV , I wanted to experience the flavors awaken as the beer warmed to room temperature and I’m glad I took that approach. The bourbon continued to be ever-present, but the other flavors became more prominent. More of the malt that characterizes the stout portion of the beer, but the hops were still dialed down a bit. Not a bad thing.

I’m glad one of my local bottle shops was selling single bottles of this beer, the price point was a little high for me to go for a full four pack of an untested beer. That said, I could definitely see myself having another bottle of this beer maybe after a year of letting it age even more than the component beers that comprise the stock ale aged. This beer proves Corporate Synergy isn’t always such a bad thing.

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Stock Up on Stock Ale

Just as Guiness blends years of Irish brewing with American creativity at is Open Gate Brewery, this limited time Guinness Stock Ale Aged in Bulleit Bourbon Barrels blends a Guinness Barleywine with an Imperial Stout for a luxuriant beer.

 

Beer Review: Cameron’s Brewing Early Bird Breakfast Barley Wine

Name: Early Bird Breakfast Barley Wine
Brewing Company: Cameron’s Brewiing Company
Location: Oakville, ON Canada
Style: Barleywine – Other
ABV: 11.8%

From Cameron’s beer landing page:

This barley wine style ale has been aged in a foeder with two classic Canadian ingredients – Ontario maple syrup and cold steeped coffee. The result is an amalgamation of flavours that include molasses, caramelized sugar, toffee, white chocolate and dark fruits that give our barley wine a long finish that is a perfect addition to your favourite breakfast.

It is always fun to try a new style or revisit a beer style you don’t often have. Case in point: one of the “biggest” of all beer styles, the Barleywine. So named because of the typically high alcohol content, often above the 10% range, an ABV typically associated with actual wine. Initially called Barleywine because of that high ABV, the liquid is most definitely a beer since it is fermented from grain and not fruit. Anyway, I’ve only had a few distinct barley wines (and a couple those were vintages of Bigfoot and Bourbon County) over the years and mostly enjoyed them but wanted to delve into the style again.

Finding different barleywines isn’t all that easy, outside of a couple of the larger breweries who distribute to my area (Weyerbacher and Sierra Nevada) brewing well-known varieties. But then I saw this can on the shelf, I knew this would be the one to try, especially given the description above which adorned the can.

After popping open the can and pouring the contents, my glass was filled with an aromatic brownish amber liquid which was very inviting. Of the flavor components called out in the description above, the toffee stands out the most on the nose. A very pleasing smelling beer indeed.

The toffee is there on the first sip, but a welcome wave of coffee accompanies the toffee, too. The subsequent sips and hits of flavor are really pleasing, sweet coffee and more of an after-dinner/dessert feel than breakfast. The beer finishes with a really aggressive hop bite. Considering the IBU on this is 80, that isn’t too surprising. This is a barleywine more aligned with the American style, given the extremely potent hop flavor component.

This is a long-sipper. A flavorful, high-ABV big beer that you should enjoy over the course of an hour or so. Let the beer sit in the glass a bit, let those flavors expand. Hell, this was a 16oz can so if you find one at your local shop (I haven’t seen too many brews from Cameron in my area), it might be worth splitting with a friend.

I liked the beer, would have liked a little more if the hop bite at the end was slightly less potent/aggressive, but that’s not a knock on the style. For the most part, the beer does just what it should for the style. I simply think I’ve come to enjoy the English/less hop forward barleywines, but would absolutely have this one again.

Recommended link to Untappd 3.75 Bottle Cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer: Wine of Beers (Level 2)

Wine of Beers (Level 2)

Strong, bold flavors really suit you. The barleywine brings with it a long history dating all the way back to ancient Greece. That’s 10 different Barleywine, Wheat Wine Beers or Rye Wine!

 

Beer Review: Southern Tier’s Rum Barrel Aged Pumking

Name: Rum Barrel Aged Pumking
Brewing Company: Southern Tier Brewing Company
Location: Lakewood, NY
Style: Pumpkin / Yam Beer
ABV: 13.4%

From Southern Tier Brewing’s landing page for the beer:

Back in 2014 we had the good fortune of finding a cache of rum barrels which we quickly filled with Pumking making what was affectionately called “Rumking.” We were lucky to have found more barrels, and in 2018, found some of the best we’ve ever used. This batch is at least as delicious as versions past.

Imagine our inimitable Imperial Pumking Ale as the captain on the high seas, flying the Jolly Roger. The ‘King sails for ports unknown in this limited release. Rum Barrel Aged Pumking has been kept like secret treasure in the hollows of the brewery, patiently awaiting discovery. Yo ho ho!

Enjoy Rum Barrel Aged Pumking now, or keep it hidden standing upright in a dark and cool place until you can say ‘anchors aweigh!’

Drinkers who enjoy pumpkin beer, especially those in the Northeast, may have asked themselves when reading my post about pumpkin last week, “What not even one of Southern Tier’s Pumking offerings?” After all Southern Tier is one of the leading brewers of the “dessert beer / pastry stout” style of beers and Pumking has been making the rounds for over 10 years now (2007). Well, I’d wanted to try one of the variants for the past couple of years and decided to go with the biggest one of them all, the Rum Barrel Aged variant (represented by the Pirate Pumking on the far right in the image below).

The Pumking family of icons.

I’ve had the regular version, Pumking seemingly every other year and for a while Warlock was actually my favorite pumpkin beer (until they changed the recipe last year). It is still a good beer (or was last year), but enough about the other members of Pumking’s family. The remainder of this post focuses on Rum Barrel Aged Pumking, which is now part of the “Barrel House Series” at Southern Tier.

The beer pours a perfect golden orange, hinting at the pumpkin and rum flavor. As I brought the glass to my nose, I was punched in the face with the strong, sweet aroma of rum. When I gave another whiff, I was punched again by that sweet rum aroma. Did I mention the beer has a strong aroma of rum? Because there’s a lot of rum on the nose of this beer.

The nose doesn’t lie…my first sip was a big hit of rum, sweetness (maybe a little big of brown sugar?) and some pumpkin spice. Most of the barrel aged beers I’ve had are in the whiskey family – bourbon, rye, or whiskey. I typically don’t gravitate to rum, not that I don’t like it, just not my thing. But here, the rum is a welcoming warmth.

The pumpkin spices come in after the beer sits for a bit, and the full pumpkin character shines or glows. There’s a line of sweetness that the rum enhances in the typical pumpkin spice character, which makes for a really unique take on a pumpkin beer. Or at least for my palette and 50+ pumpkin beers I’ve consumed over the years.

Another thing I found impressive about the beer is that the character of the base beer – Pumking – is still very strong despite the big punch of rum. Pumking has always stood out from other pumpkin beers for me – something about the spice and nuttiness (I’d almost say pecan-like) sets it apart. This really is like Pumking turned up to 11, so if you like Pumking, chances are very good you’ll enjoy this beer.

I feel like the statement I’ve most often made on this blog is to let the beer warm and get closer to room temperature. Well, the statement applies here to the Rum Barrel Aged Pumking. To the point that I’d recommend letting the beer sit for five or ten minutes before fully enjoying it.

At 13.4% ABV, this is either one to share or enjoy over the course of an evening. I took almost the entirety of watching a really good horror movie (The Witch, a little over 90 minutes) to enjoy the beer. Given that letting the beer sit in the glass allows the beer to breathe and the flavors to come alive, you’ll want to take your time with it, too.

I’ve recounted how much I enjoy Southern Tier’s beer in the past, but this is the first “new to me” beer from them I’ve had in almost a year (last year’s new take on Warlock and 3 Citrus Peel Out) but overall, I’ve had nearly 30 beers from the venerable NY brewery and this is a standout from them and worth hunting down.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-star rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Gourd to the Last Drop (Level 11)

Fall is in the air and the holidays are just around the corner, but pies and jack-o-lanterns aren’t the only things pumpkins are good for. Pumpkin beers have grown in popularity, bringing with them a delicate balance of malt and spices. That’s 55 different beers with the style of Pumpkin / Yam!

 

Beer Review: De Kleine Dood from Central Waters Brewing Co. & Local Option Bierwerker

Name: De Kleine Dood
Brewing Company: Central Waters Brewing Co. / Local Option Bierwerker

Location: Amherst, WI / Chicago, IL
Style: Bock – Weizenbock
ABV: 12.2%

From Central Waters’s page for “Specialty Beers:”

De Kleine Dood (formerly known as La Petite Mort) is a Belgian inspired Weizenbock brewed as a collaboration between Central Waters and The Local Option in Chicago, IL. This beer maintains the traditional characteristics of its Bavarian fore bearer, with the added complexity of Belgian ale yeast. La Petite Mort is dark amber in color; maintains a rich, full-bodied mouth-feel augmented by caramel; mild and dark fruit.

My feature on Bocks back in April should be an indicator that I enjoy the various styles of Bocks, with Weizenbock maybe my favorite of the Bocks. So when I stumbled across a Weizenbock I hadn’t tried, let alone knew about from a brewery that seems to have a solid reputation, I knew I had to give it a try.

Of the styles of Bock, the Weizenbock or Doppelbocks have the highest ABV (in the 7%-9% range) so imagine how big the beer would be if it aged in bourbon barrels. Well, Central Waters Brewing who has a solid Barrel Aging series as part of their brewing portfolio apparently were also curious how that would work. The result, in collaboration with Local Option Bierwerker out of Chicago, is this potent, rich, complex beer.

The beer pours a beautiful deep crimson/scarlet, a red bordering on brown. The photo doesn’t do the color of the beer justice. On color alone, this is one of the loveliest brews I’ve poured. The bourbon is extremely strong in the aroma, it really dominates although there is a slight hint of earthy/stone fruit in the undercurrent of the beer.

First sip…yep, that bourbon is omnipresent. Underneath it, the figgy/date/plum flavors evoked by the yeast are there, too. My first impression is that this is a long sipping dessert beer, but the flavors are muted a bit by the cold temperature. So, I just kept breathing in the beer every few minutes before each small sip so the beer could warm closer to room temperature.

Once it warms up, like most high ABV beers, especially those aged in barrels that previously held some kind of alcohol, the flavors can breathe. The beer comes into its full flavor profile and those stone fruit evocations from the yeast rise to the top. I managed to take about two hours to drink the full 22 oz, over that time, the bourbon settled down and the fruitiness evoked by the yeast became more prominent, even if the bourbon still dominated. I didn’t get much of the banana flavors that typically come from a weizenbock, but that wasn’t really a problem. At 12.2% even taking two hours to drink the beer still had a noticeable effect on me – about the only sensible thing to do after enjoying 22oz of a 12.2% beer is go to sleep.

The beer’s description does confuse me a little, I’ll be honest. A Weizenbock is one of the more Germanic styles of beer, yet the description says “Belgian inspired Weizenbock.” I suppose sine the fruit evocation is more of the stone fruit than a banana like flavor from true German brews the description does make sense. Either way, this is a really tasty beer and I would love to sample the base beer before it is aged in the bourbon barrel.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Founders Brewing Dankwood

Name: Dankwood
Brewing Company: Founders Brewing Co. (Barrel Aged Series)
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Style: Red Ale – Imperial/Double (Untappd) / Imperial Red IPA (Founders’ bottle)
ABV: 12.2%

Official Barrel Aged glass courtesy of Founders.

From Founders’ page for the beer:

What do you get when a big, bold imperial red IPA meets an oak bourbon barrel? A palate stunner that’ll send your senses spinning or, as we like to call it, Dankwood. Rich caramel notes emerge from the depths of the IPA, highlighting strong malt character while the bourbon barrel-aging develops the complexity. A dank, sticky and slightly sweet sipper, Dankwood is the perfect alchemy of wood and hops.

I’ve made it pretty clear that Founders is one of my favorite (easily top 5) nationally distributed craft breweries, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m reviewing another beer from them. Last year, Founders kicked off a major brewing program, The Barrel Aged Series and included long-time favorites Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Backwoods Bastard (which I reviewed last year) and newer brews, like Doom (basically, Double Trouble barrel aged) and this one, Dankwood, which is basically ReDANKulous aged in barrels.

Popping open the beer and pouring it into the bottle a wonderful booziness from the bourbon wafts towards me. The beer initially seems a dark red, but as it settles into the glass, the color seems more caramelized. First sip is potent hops but smoothed out by the barrel aging.

There are a lot of powerful flavors swirling in the glass. Hops, bourbon, oak, with an ample malt backbone. Two out of four are standard for a big, bold IPA, with the malt more pronounced in some Red Ales. This is most definitely a beer you want to drink slowly in sips to enjoy the complexity of the hops interacting with the bourbon aging. As it warms, the maltiness is a bit more pronounced. Quite frankly, the beer becomes more of what it claims to be as it settles into the glass. Like many barrel aged beers, wafting in the aroma is nearly as pleasing as the taste itself.

This is the fourth offering I’ve had in the Barrel Aged series. KBS still reigns supreme and Backwoods Bastard is very close to that. As much as I enjoyed Doom, there were familiar elements in that beer from the hops. I don’t drink many Red Ales and have only had a couple of Red IPAs so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much the barrel aging rounded out the sharp hop profile and enhanced the malt backbone.

Many breweries are aging beers in used liquor barrels (Bourbon, Whisky, Rye, Rum, Wine, etc), regardless of the size of the brewery. Hell, a friend helped his friend brew a barrel aged stout with a home-brew kit. That said, the majority of breweries doing barrel aging are focusing on stouts, but Founders has shown how well barrel ageing can work on hop-forward ales like IPAs. The beer I’m really looking forward to is the barrel-aged Old Curmudgeon, AKA Curmudgeon’s Better Half.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.0-star rating.

Beer Review: Boulevard’s Bourbon Barrel Quad

Name: Bourbon Barrel Quad (Part of Boulevard’s Smokestack Series)
Brewing Company: Boulevard Brewing Co.
Location: Kansas City, MO
Style: Belgian Quadrupel
ABV: 11.2%

Duvel (the beer name on the glass) owns Boulevard, thus the glass style (tulip) and name, are doubly appropriate!

Description of the beer from Boulevard’s landing page for the beer

Based loosely on the Smokestack Series’ The Sixth Glass, this abbey-style quadrupel is separated into a number of oak bourbon barrels where it ages for varying lengths of time, some for up to three years. Cherries are added to make up for the “angel’s share” of beer lost during barrel aging. Selected barrels are then blended for optimum flavor. The resulting beer retains only very subtle cherry characteristics, with toffee and vanilla notes coming to the fore.

Boulevard is one of the largest craft breweries in Missouri, and despite being owned by Belgian brewing giant Duvel Moortgat, they seem to hew to their own traditions. I can’t really compare the brewery and its output to the pre-Duvel purchase (2013), but their beers seem to have a very solid reputation in the Craft Beer industry. Enough about Boulevard, on to this fine Belgian inspired brew…

I realize this is the second Belgian Quadrupel I’ve reviewed in two months, so you know the beer stood out.

The beer pours brownish/amber and the aroma that arises out of the glass is pleasing and inviting. There’s quite a bit of sweetness on the first sip, but it is very welcoming. Some sweeter beers can be too cloying, but the balance up front (and overall) is quite nice. Then the bourbon hits and the sweetness continues, along with the flavors imparted by the oak barrels and the whiskey remnants. I’m not sure I got too much of the cherry flavors called out in the beer description, but there was a little more to the sweetness than the vanilla and bourbon.

I initially expected the beer to be a little darker than it poured, if I’m going to be honest. However, everything else about this beer exceeded my expectations, or side-stepped them in some way. The quad aspects are definitely present, but after that initial sip, the bourbon barrel flavors assert themselves and complement the yeasty Belgian goodness quite nicely. There’s a sweetness of vanilla that brings this fully into the realm of a dessert beer. Pour it early just after dinner and enjoy it over the course of the evening. I thought I was going to enjoy the beer, but I was sad when i downed the last sip in the glass.

This is a very delicious beer and one that has me more interested in the beers that Boulevard Brewing is producing. Especially Boulevard’s Smokestack Series,  their group of brews which are higher in ABV, more complex in taste, and great for slow enjoyment. As a part of the series, this Bourbon Barrell Quad fits perfectly. They distribute fairly strongly into New Jersey so meeting that interest shouldn’t be too tough.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer

Sky’s the Limit (Level 20)

You don’t always intend to go for beers with a double digit ABV, but when you do, you make it count! Cheers to you, but be careful, 10% and up can really pack a punch. That’s 100 different beers with an ABV of 10% and up.

#UntapTheStack

You’re off to a great start! Keep trying Boulevard Smokestack Series beers to #UntapTheStack and unlock all three levels (it’ll be worth it, trust us).

 

Beer Review: New Belgium Brewing’s French Oak Saison

Name: French Oak Saison
Brewing Company: New Belgium Brewing Company
Location: Fort Collins, CO
Style: Sour – Farmhouse IPA (untappd) / Barrel Aged Sour Farmhouse Ale (Bottle)
ABV: 7.5%

The beer’s description on New Belgium’s Landing Page for the beer:

To understand “Belgian-style beer” is to understand Belgium’s nuanced regions and historical past. To the north, we have Flanders, a region invaded and occupied by many foreign powers over hundreds of years, known for everything from white beer to oak-aged sour brown ales.

To the south, we have Wallonia, a region known for its rich farmland, industrial coalfields, French culture and farmhouse ales like Biere de Garde and saison. Our French Oak Saison pulls inspiration from both regions by marrying a dry, hop-forward Wallonia-style saison with a golden ale soured in French oak foeders for 15 to 18 months — a method derived from Flanders. The rye and spelt grains in the saison contribute to a medium-light body while the Huell Melon and Tettnang hops give aromas of honeydew and white pepper.

The result is a rustic, goldenrod yellow saison offering pleasant lemon and white grape aromas and a bright, mouthwatering sourness with a clean, dry finish.

New Belgium, is of course, one of the largest (4th largest), most widely distributed, and longest standing (established in 1991) American craft breweries. As the name would imply, the brewery focuses on Belgian style ales. Along with their popular Fat Tire Amber Ale, Dubbel and Trippel, New Belgium has an extensive barrel aging line of beers with one of the largest cellars for barrels in the U.S. Which leads to this beer, an ale in French-Oak barrels for about a year and half. The style classification is a seeming mish-mash of styles that may not seem complementary to each other and a couple of styles that aren’t exactly in my favored styles. I expected something overly bitter and hoppy.

That couldn’t be farther from the what this beer turned out to be. There’s a citrusy aroma floating out as the beer pours from the 22oz bottle into the glass. The first hit is very much citrusy, with strong hints of lemon that was hinted at in the aroma. The sour/sweet is prominent and makes the beer very, very drinkable.

The barrel aging, I think cuts some of the hop-bite as well as the peaty-earthiness that some Farmhouse Ales can impart on the palette. This is a bright, crisp beer that shines in both flavor and color, my photo above does not do justice to just how inviting the beer is. As my brief comment on untappd suggests, this is a lovely beer that would do well for a spring day. As it was, the beer was a nice change of pace from the stouts, porters, and darker ales I usually enjoy during cold months.

This beer is so refreshing and sweetly balanced it practically screams at you to keep drinking, but the complexities of the flavor urge you to take your time. The 7.5% ABV isn’t too high, sort of a middle of the road beer in that respect, but a tad higher than many Saisons/Farmhouse Ales which are typically slightly lower in alcohol (closer to 5%). As this one stands, the barrel aging likely drew out more of the alcohol presence making for a very smooth, tasty and drinkable beer.

This is the third beer I’ve had from New Belgium’s barrel-aged portfolio (the others being Lips of Faith – Flowering Citrus Ale and Lips of Faith – Clutch) and while those other two were good, the pure drinkability – complex taste & sweetness making me not want to put the beer down – elevate this beer to another level for me. I’m not sure how many of these are still on shelves, but if you want an interesting take on a Farmhouse Ale, this is a great beer to fit that taste craving.

Further, if you only know of New Belgium through Fat Tire, Trippel, and Abby, explore beers like this one. Those popular beers you see everywhere on draught and in 12oz bottles help to make beers like this experimental ale possible.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: James E. Pepper 1776 Brown Ale aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels

Name: James E. Pepper 1776 Smoked American Brown Ale aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels
Brewing Company: Georgetown Trading Company / James E. Pepper Distilling & Beltway Brewing Co.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Style: Brown Ale Imperial / Double:
ABV: 10.4%

From the beer’s description about halfway down James E. Pepper’s Web site:

Like most whiskey aficionados, we also love a great beer. And in particular, we became very fond of barrel-aged beers, which from time to time had been aged in our whiskey barrels! So we decided to have some fun and make our own beer. We partnered with a great craft brewery (the Beltway Brewing Co. in Sterling, VA) and began working with their master brewer to create a beer that would age best in barrels that previously held our award winning James E. Pepper “1776” Rye Whiskey. No more than 30 days after our whiskey barrels are dumped in Kentucky, they are at the brewery being filled with beer. This ensures that every batch gets a rich Rye whiskey finish and notes of toffee, chocolate, oak and vanilla. Because we buy barrels from the cooper to age our whiskey, and then we monitor that maturation process over the years until we bottle our whiskey, we have complete control over the age and type of barrels we use. We think that is a big reason why this beer has come out with such uniquely rich flavor and taste. Cheers!

Brown Ales are a very old style and often overlooked. Just the style name tells you only about its color, but when brewed with ingenuity, like this Imperial Brown is, then something old really tastes like something new.

This one has the malty characteristics of a Brown Ale, with the enhancements of the rye barrel aging. The beer is a little bit boozy with wonderful hints of toffee and oak. The high alcohol from the barrels is definitely present, but it isn’t overpowering. Like many of the dark, high alcohol beers, the flavor profile becomes more pronounced and enjoyable as it warms up to room temperature after pouring.

This is the only beer took Georgetown Trading Company seems to brew and they’ve created something really nice. Every other brewery is aging their dark beers (mostly stouts) in bourbon barrels, so it is nice to take a classic style, employ a well-honed aging, but with a slightly different aging agent. In this case, the brown ale is aged in barrels from a classic brown alcohol – rye whiskey. Legend has it that the first Old Fashioned was invented in honor of James E. Pepper whose distillery dates back to 1780. Having enjoyed many bourbon-aged ales, it was a welcome taste variation on what I have come to expect.

The usual caveats apply here: let it warm before enjoying as the flavors really come out more strongly as the beer settles into the glass. Although I had a 12oz bottle, this beer also comes in a 22oz bottle. Drink it slowly or share it because the 10.4% ABV has the potential to knock you on your keester.

I see bottles of this one in most of the bottle shops I visit so, presumably, this one is fairly easy to find. At least in the Northeast. The bottle I enjoyed was bottled in February 2016 so this one aged even more for almost two years in the bottle before I consumed it. After having one that sat for so long (and that’s not a knock, because this is a great beer), I wonder how a more recently bottled version would taste . Another problem for me to solve, oh well.

Highly Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer

Sky’s the Limit (Level 19)

You don’t always intend to go for beers with a double digit ABV, but when you do, you make it count! Cheers to you, but be careful, 10% and up can really pack a punch. That’s 95 different beers with an ABV of 10% and up.

2X (Level 24)

When a single isn’t enough, make it a double. Doubling the hops and malts in a recipe results in a higher ABV and can pack quite a boozey punch. That’s 120 different beers with the style that contains Imperial / Double in its style name. Try 5 more for Level 25!

 

Beer Review: Carton Brewing Sundae

Name: Sundae
Brewing Company: Carton Brewing
Location: Atlantic Highlands, NJ
Style: “Neapolitan” Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 10%

From the beer’s description on Carton Brewing’s Web site:

Neapolitan Russian Imperial Stout Aged in Cognac Barrels with Walnuts and Maraschino cherries

The first stride along this path was enough Super Galena in the middle of the boil leading a strawberry hop tone in vanilla and chocolate malt notes creating a Russian Imperial Stout with a different gait. The move to “let’s throw some Neapolitan ice cream in there and see what happens” isn’t a giant leap. Going from a big bold stout with chocolate vanilla and strawberry freeze dried ice cream to “brandied walnuts and a cherry on top right?” is actually a small step. Sundae is Cosmonaut put down in cognac barrels with maraschino cherries and walnuts for a year. Drink Sundae because this one’s for you, Mr. Gorsky.

Carton Brewing has been at the forefront of NJ Craft Brewing since they’ve been brewing and selling beer in 2011 for many reasons. Carton’s range of experimental styles (adding prickly pear cactus to one beer or white truffles to another, for two examples) are akin to an artisanal chef.  The wonderful taste of their beers drive people keep seeking out those beers and making the trip to the Atlantic Highlands to get cans of their beer. They brew one of the most sought-after limited-release beers in the region,  Regular Coffee. Long story short, they are doing things smart, artistically, and with a passion and chances are I’ll be writing about more about Carton here in the future.

One of their regularly brewed beers is Cosmonaut, a Russian Imperial Stout and Sundae is a variation on that beer. I haven’t tried Cosmonaut so I can’t compare this variation to the original. Pouring Sundae from the can, what I initially took to be a black beer was actually a deep burgundy/crimson. You know, that dark tone of red that can be indistinguishable from black until the light hits it the right way and then all you see is that deep red. The aroma is a sweet rich smell that lingers nicely before drinking the beer.

From that initial pour and inhale, I kept thinking, “What a surprise this beer is.” It looks like a stout, has some of the dark rich flavor profiles of a stout, but feels a slight bit thinner than most stouts I’ve had. The combination of these characteristics makes Sundae one of the more unique beers I’ve ever consumed.

I was concerned about the addition of walnuts. I don’t mind nuts of any kind on their own so much, but I am not a fan of when they are added to brownies or ice cream. I shouldn’t have worried, the presence of the walnuts is subtle and really complemented by the beer being aged in the cognac barrels with the cherries.

Russian Imperial Stouts tend to have more of a bitter aftertaste and are sometimes slightly higher in hop presence than most stouts. Again, the cognac and cherry presence buried that bitterness and the aftertaste of the beer is more akin to a sweet aftertaste than bitter aftertaste, which makes this a perfect dessert beer, as if the name of the beer didn’t already imply that. What was also impressive is how well-hidden the relatively high ABV of 10% is. Perhaps because I sipped the beer over the course of an hour it didn’t hit me as much as I expected it would have.

What this beer reminded me of most was when you are at the end of your ice cream sundae or bowl of ice cream. You’ve got your favorite toppings, the ice cream is melted enough that when you swirl all the ingredients together you’ve got what amounts to ice cream soup. That was always the most fun part of ice cream to me and that’s what this beer evokes – sweet, tasty fun.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.75-star rating.