So I decided a few weeks ago to try to drink as many barrel aged beers that I had in my collection as I could. I think I got about nine days in a row drinking at least one before I punked out, but I had another two a few days after that, and the last one was drank today.
I enjoy quite a number of barrel aged beers for many of the same reasons most of us do: the barrel imparts interesting flavors to some of our favorite base beers, they have higher ABVs than a lot of other beers, and there’s the feeling that you’re drinking something special, especially if it’s a beer that only comes out once a year and thus has more of a collector’s appeal.
However, I worry that a lot of these barrel aged beers are just a gimmick, and they’re really not contributing anything to the beer world. But that’s a topic that can be debated at another time.
Anyways, here’s my thoughts on the ones I have drunk recently, in order of consumption, with the brewer’s description in quotes.
1) VLAD THE CONQUISTADOR (Hailstorm Brewing) – “bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout brewed with chiles, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla, and agave”. I drank the 2015 version because I heard the 2016 version was coming out. I still have a tequila barrel aged version that I’m going to let sit another month or so. I found this one really well balanced – all the flavors came out, but nothing overpowered anything else, and the barrel presence helped add yet another layer to it. My fear with beers with peppers of any kind is that they’re going to be too spicy, but letting this one sit for almost nine months helped calm any heat down. It wasn’t oily like some stouts, and it was a very easier drinker with a cigar by the fire pit. I look forward to this year’s version.
OVERALL RATING (out of 5): 4.5
2) BLUEGRASS BILLIONARE (Clown Shoes) – “English Style Barleywine Ale Aged in Bourbon Barrels”. Another one by the fire pit with a cigar (it was one of those weekends). It had the malty characteristics I’ve come to expect from a good barleywine, but the barrel asserted itself quite well. It was extremely smooth but there was a subtle alcohol burn that hid itself on the back end. I’ll probably grab another one next year, unless I happen to come across one more this year, which I would age just to see what happens. OVERALL RATING: 4.37
3) STICKEE MONKEE (Firestone Walker Brewing) – “Barrel Aged Central Coast Quad”. I shared the 2016 vintage with my sister in law’s boyfriend as a house warming drink for our first visit to their new apartment (glad I did – he shared his bottle of Last Snow from Funky Buddha with me in return). I liked this one a LOT. I’m lucky enough that my favorite beer store owner gets Firestone’s barrel aged stuff, and he always puts one of each on the side for me. I enjoy quads, and in fact one of the first beers that really excited me about craft was Boulevard’s Barrel Aged Quad, so I was looking forward to this one. It was dark brown with some sediment, strong barrel and molasses scents and flavor, accompanied by some mild boozy tanginess. This was the first time I had this one, and I look forward to trying this again next year. OVERALL RATING: 4.59
4) FARMER’S RESERVE CITRUS (Almanac Beer Co.) – “Ale brewed with citrons and oranges and aged in wine barrels”. I had this for the first time last year and reviewed it then. As a wild ale, it had the right amount of funk, and it more than lived up to the “citrus” in the title. It was tangy and fruity with a strong zesty aftertaste. I’m not quite sure what the wine barrels added, but the overall feeling I have about this beer was summed up in one word: FUN. I’ll probably buy a bottle of this every time I see it, especially if it’s summer, as it’s a great sipper on a warm day. Note: I actually drank it this time from a champagne flute, and I think that helped bring out a lot of the scents and flavors. OVERALL RATING: 4.31
5) JACKIE O’S BOURBON BARREL DARK APPARITION (Jackie O’s) – “Stout brewed with brown sugar & aged in bourbon barrels”. This was the second time I tried it, and two notes regarding that – a) Mr Webmaster Scot shared one with me the first time I had it, and as much as I loved it then, I loved it even more this time, and b) the aforementioned sister in law’s boyfriend got this one in a trade and just gave me the bottle straight up when I mentioned how much I loved it. This is why I always try to share good stuff with him when he comes over here. Anyway, the only thing I changed on my first rating with the second bottle was bumping up rating on the smell. It’s one of the best looking stouts I’ve ever had-mild lacing is always present, there’s healthy activity on each drink, and you can see particulates hanging out even with the extreme darkness. It’s sweet and malty smelling, but the barrel is hiding just below that. It’s a perfectly tasting beer – all the qualities of a great stout are there, and then that barrel comes in and punches it up just a notch to the point that it fills the mouth with vibrancy. The only complaint I have about it is the slight oily feel. I’ll drink this thing any chance I get, especially since Jackie O’s isn’t distributed in our area. OVERALL RATING: 4.71
6) JAMES BEAN (Allagash Brewing Company) – “ale aged in bourbon barrels with cold brewed coffee”. I shared this one with the sister in law’s boyfriend when he came over (told you), and I’m glad I did, as I don’t think I could have handled the entire 750 ml bottle myself. It was what you’d want from a tripel (which is what it actually is categorized as), but there was too much coffee presence on it for me to think it was really good. OVERALL RATING: 4.24
7) BLACK BUTTE XVII (Deschutes Brewery) – “27th Birthday Reserve Ale brewed with rose water with 50% aged in bourbon barrels blended with apricot puree, cocoa nibs, and pomegranate molasses”. That’s a mouthful, and so is this beer. I had it when it came out last year, and I gave it a 4.3 rating. It came across as thin then, but aging one a year helped give it more body. It smelled a lot better this year – more sweetness and barrel were present. It had a roasty and sweet taste with a boozy buzz from the barrel on the back end. I get the cocoa and molasses, but I couldn’t tell you how much of the fruitiness I tasted was from apricot or pomegranate, since I really don’t know either of them. Only complaint I had was the slightly oily feel. OVERALL RATING: 4.46
8) RODENBACH GRAND CRU (Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V.) – “Ale aged in oak foeders – approx. 1/3rd young ale and 2/3rd two year old matured ale”. I wanted to try something from Rodenbach because of their reputation, and I’m glad this was my introduction to them. It had a cloudy tannish red look with good carb and slight lacing. It smelled fruity and floral with a barrel presence. The first word that came to mind when tasting it was sharp, followed by bubbly and tangy. It was tart with mild booziness, and it kept my mouth watering between drinks. While it was very good, I’m not sure I’ll buy another one of it due to the price point, however I’ll still pick up anything this brewery makes that I haven’t tried yet. OVERALL RATING: 4.42
9) PUMP[KY]N (Avery Brewing Company) – “Bourbon barrel aged pumpkin porter, spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, and aged in fresh Bourbon barrels for 6 months”. I bought a couple bottles of this one last year, had one then and aged the rest. My wife loves pumpkin beers, and she REALLY loves this one. I have to agree with her – it almost drinks like a brandy or a port more than a beer. It’s super sweet with big pumpkin flavor and a heavy alcohol flavor. If anything, that’s my one complaint about Avery’s barrel aged beers – the ABV is too much. Sometimes I wonder if their stuff would taste even better if they lowered the alcohol content. I mentioned when reviewing it last year that I hoped aging some would bring that booze buzz down, and it definitely did. I will buy more of this one for sure, even if the price point is, like most Avery barrel aged 12 oz bottles, way too high. OVERALL RATING: 4.5
10) BOURBON BARREL AGED CHOCOLATE BARLEYWINE (Moody Tongue) – pretty much self explanatory by the title. Simple review: too much chocolate, not enough barrel or barley wine. I’m glad I bought a second, as I’m going to let it age and see if the chocolate mellows out a bit. For that reason, I have not yet rated it.
11) TART NOIRE (Paradox Beer Company) – “Dark Farmhouse Ale brewed with grape must aged in oak wine barrels”. I’ll admit I maybe messed up the bottle because I stored it in my fridge sideways instead of straight up as instructed on the label. There was a ton of sediment stuck to the bottom which I got off by pouring some back in and giving it a good swirl. It was almost like a shake at that point. It wasn’t a bad beer, but I wasn’t quite sure what they were going for. I wasn’t impressed with the smell or feel of it. Looked and tasted okay, but I’m probably not going to pick up anything else from the brewery in the future. OVERALL RATING: 3.93
12) GOOD FIEND (Pipeworks Brewing Co. with Parce Rum) – “Imperial Stout brewed with cocao nibs, vanilla beans and raspberries aged in Parce rum barrels”. First thing I have to say is Pipeworks is my favorite brewery, bar none, so maybe I’m a bit biased. But other than the Dark Apparition, this was the best of the bunch. It’s aged in rum barrels, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a rum barrel aged beer before, so it’s different. There’s a definite boozy sense to it imparted by the barrel, very present on the smell, but not as much on the taste-for a thirteen percent, it’s hidden rather well. The beer is very nice looking – dark brown with tannish edges, and a pretty healthy and constant lacing. Like I said, the barrel nature is the first thing that pops up on the smell, but there’s also chocolate and raspberry there. Upon drinking it, you’re hit with a combination of things: the roastiness you expect from a stout, the sweet chocolate flavor, the tartness of the raspberry, and the spicy booziness of the rum barrel. It’s a little oily, but with the great balance this has, I’m willing to overlook it. I like that Pipeworks rarely barrel ages stuff, so when they do, I look forward to it a lot. And this one did NOT disappoint. OVERALL RATING: 4.67
So that’s that. Thank you for reading, and may you not drink shitty beers!
writer’s note: no barrels were harmed in the making of these beers. I hope.