One of the trends that has taken hold in craft beer over the last few years is barrel ageing beers. They have become so ubiquitous that the Beer Judge Certification Program, the primary style definer of American craft beer, has two new categories for the 2015 edition of the style guide.
I find barrel aged beer interesting because they are usually a version of another beer the brewer already makes. How the ageing changes the beer via the time spent in the barrels and the properties the barrels themselves provides the beer are both fascinating. Depending on the type of barrel used, i.e. bourbon, gin, rum, scotch, tequila, or wine, what the barrels provide the beer is different each time. Bourbon barrels provides additional sweetness and caramel and wine barrels provide tart or buttery notes depending on the wine.
Despite the common misconception, the ageing does not provide more alcohol to the beer. There are two reasons why this misconception persists. The first, many times the beer aged in the barrels is a high ABV beer in order to stand up to the ageing. The second is the beer usually takes on some of the taste characteristics of the liquid that was originally in the barrels. The taste of bourbon often makes people think of alcohol. I make a bourbon pound cake that people swear gets them a little drunk even though the alcohol cooks off as the cake bakes.
Weighing in at 10% the Triple C Up All Night and Up All Night Bourbon Barrel Aged start off big and flavorful. Let’s begin with the Up All Night.
Up All Night is a breakfast porter, which means it is brewed with coffee. Using a strong taste like that as your base for a bourbon barrel aged beer is important. The bourbon tastes can overwhelm the beer taking away its unique qualities. A
After pouring a nice dark brown with a good fluffy head, you get the clear aroma of coffee when you take a sniff. There are also hints of vanilla and honey once it warms a bit.
When you taste it, its big coffee flavor matches the aroma with notes of honey on the back end. As a fan of both coffee flavors and honey, I enjoy this beer immensely. For a beer with as big an ABV and use of honey, it is still a porter which makes it comparatively light on the tongue and dangerously easy to drink. High ABV beers often have what is termed a boozy taste, meaning the taste of the alcohol is present and honey often gives a beer a cloying heavy taste. Neither is present in these beers.
The bourbon barrel aged version differs slightly. As it should. It is a little inkier and thicker in appearance. That may be the psychological effect of knowing it is a bourbon barrel aged beer. The aroma also changes in that the coffee is shunted to the background by bourbon and hints of caramel. It isn’t as light on the tongue and has a more velvety feel on the tongue. Interestingly, to my palate, the roasted nature of the coffee is more pronounced and give it a little more bite. Again, that is why coffee is a good match for barrel ageing, it is a strong flavor that stands up to the bourbon, in this case.
The bourbon barrel Up All Night does what a barrel aged beer should do: It adds different flavors and highlights ones already present in the original version. Both Up All Night and Up All Night Bourbon Barrel Aged are well worth your time if you can still find them.
Here is another cool thing, this time, next year, I will do a vertical tasting of 2015 and 2016 bourbon barrel aged versions. I’m already looking forward to it.