Jan 31, 2011

Beer Review: Bourbon Cask Aged Brews

One of the biggest things happening with beer right now is ale aged in bourbon casks.  The bourbon casks are usually charred white American oak that previously held whiskey for anywhere from 5-23 years.  Aging the beer for a period of time in these casks changes the character of the brew in just about every way.  It all depends on the time in the cask, the type of whiskey, the type of ale and the fermentation agenda. 

A couple of weeks ago, we picked up a few bottles of bourbon-cask beer before one of the many snowstorms that we have been living through up here in the Northeast.  So we figured we would do our own little tasting while we were being snowed in.  There are worse things I could do...
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The first one we tried was from Widmer Brothers Brewing Company in Oregon called Barrel Aged Brrrbon.  This one was a Winter Warmer style ale, which usually means it's a heavily spiced ale.  At least in this country.  Nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon...pretty much any traditional Christmas spice is either added or the flavor is mirrored through the fermentation process.  Yeasts can do that, ya know.  It hasn't been running to rave reviews on the beer sites, and at around $13 a bottle (22oz) it is one of the more reasonable bourbon aged brews around.  Believe it or not.  But despite all that, we enjoyed it immensely.  It had a real nice whiskey kick/aroma and all that extra alcohol (9.6% ABV) didn't detract from the taste of the spiced ale.  A real nice beer.

The second one we tried was from Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago called Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout 2010.  Goose Island is THE name in bourbon cask aged beers right now.  Generally the hardest to find and the most expensive around.  A 22oz bottle of this went for around $17 and came in at a whopping 13.0% ABV!!!  But it was soooo good.  I love a good vanilla stout, and the addition of the bourbon notes just really worked well with this brew.  A great sipping beer, you aren't going to want to have more than one of these.  A little too sweet for that.  The extra alcohol might dissuade you as well.  But only if you is the wussy kind of folk.  This is a great beer, and I highly recommend it.

The last one we tried that evening was also from Goose Island called Rare Bourbon County Stout.  Let me tell you a little about this beer.  The barrels that they use come from Pappy Van Winkle 23-year old Family Reserve Bourbon.  So the barrels have whiskey in them for 23 years!  Then this beer for another 2 years.  The result is...well, of course it's remarkable.  Big-time bourbon characteristics are heaped on top of an already pretty damn good beer.  Big-time alcohol as well, coming in at 13.0% ABV.  But here's the catch...it's really expensive.  We paid around $45 for a 22oz bottle of this stuff, and it is going for even higher on eBay.  There isn't a lot to go around, but it seems like someone is getting rich off this stuff.  So while it's a seriously awesome stout, I really wouldn't recommend it for the price.

4 comments:

sybil law said...

The Goose Island stuff sounds delicious! But WAY too pricey for me. I'll have to see if my friend sells any of these...

B.E. Earl said...

Sybil - Yeah, the Rare one is way too expensive for me too. But I can say I tried it once.

sybil law said...

Good news! My friend has BOTH of these!
Once our "ice storm" is over, I'll drive on over and get them. Yay!

B.E. Earl said...

Sybil - Both of them? But I reviewed 3 beers. ;)
(I'm assuming you are going to skip the $50 bottle of rare stuff...)