Into the Woods

Barrel aging of beer goes back a long way.  Go far enough back and ALL beer was barrel aged, but for the purpose of modern craft beer (and this post) barrel aging usually refers to aging beer in a barrel that previously held some other form of spirit.  Bourbon/Whiskey are the most popular style of barrel for beer aging, but other spirits such as Rum and Tequila aged beers are starting to show up.  Wine barrels, commonly used in production of sour beers, are also starting to show up in non-sour applications.  Red wine barrels seem to be the most prevalent.

Goose Island proclaims to be the originator of Bourbon Barrel aged beers, starting in about 1994.  Interestingly, while I was prepping this post, an article was published by Jeff Alworth about the beginnings of Goose Island Bourbon County, which you can read HERE.

I currently have a couple of oak spirals soaking in spiced rum for a Rum “Barrel” Tropical Stout that I’m working on, so I’ve had barrel aged beers on the brain, plus it’s the season for them.  Several have been released in the last week or so.  Barrel aged beers tend to be darker and higher alcohol which is perfect for the cold weather season.  Presented here, in no particular order, are some barrel aged beers that have recently really impressed me. Ratings are out of 5 stars and match how I rated them on Untappd.

2016 Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine – Starting with the aforementioned original.  I haven’t opened my personal bottle yet, but I tasted it on release day and it is phenomenal! I think this years Barleywine might actually be better than the stout. (4.75)

Ordanance Blackfisky (Whiskey barrel aged Blackfisk Stout) – My only comment on this one is “Wooooooow…” so you can imagine what that’s like.  Incredibly smooth this one really blew me away.  9.5% ABV, so strong but not obscene.  (5.0)

Collage 2 – Deschutes/Hair of the Dog – Another one that took my breath away, almost literally.  My Untapped comment reads “Holy fuck. Yup.”  This one is a tongue bender.  A blend of all 100% barrel aged beers, a combination of Abyss Imperial Stout and Stoic Belgian Quad both 100% Pinot Barrel Aged from Deschutes, with Doggie Claws 100% cognac barrel aged and Fred from the Wood (virgin american oak and rye whiskey) from Hair of the Dog this beer has a lot going on.  Clocking in at 14.3% it packs a wallop as well. (5.0)

Old Montavillan Barrel Aged Old Ale – Montavilla Brew Werks – This one is only available on draft at the MBW taproom, and also pouring at the Portland Holiday Ale Fest which opens today.  Super smooth, with very subtle bourbon notes.  Not quite as strong at 9% but still a nice “warmer”.  (4.75)

Muy Bonita (Barrel Aged Imperial Brown Ale) – Funky Buddha – Apple cinnamon brown ale aged in apple brandy barrels.  Really interesting, this one had a really unique flavor profile both from the beer style and the different barrels.  (4.75)

Black Butte³ – Deschutes – I’m not sure if you can still find this one, but this is a inception style beer within a whiskey within a beer.  Deschutes brewed a batch of Black Butte, which Bend Distillery distilled into Black Butte Whiskey, and then another batch of Black Butte was aged in the barrels the Black Butte Whiskey came out of.  (Hence the cubed).  I remember this being really good, so I don’t remember why now I rated it only a 4.25.  I know I can get really shy on super high rating sometimes.  I rarely give a 5 and yet two of them are on this list.

Pinot Barrel Aged Black Panther Imperial Stout – Golden Valley – I think this was one of the first beers I came across as a dark beer aged in a red wine barrel.  It was incredibly fruit forward in the nose and beginning flavor before the dark roast kicked in.  Really well done and a great price point if I remember correctly.  (4.5)

Hopefully this will inspire you to go out and try some barrel aged beers.  There’s a lot of them out now! Cheers!

Westvleteren 12 (2013) Review

I’m trying to do more beer reviews so I will start with something extremely special I had a couple days ago.

Westvleteren 12, or Westy 12 as it’s commonly referred to, is a strong dark Trappist beer. Called a “Quad” in the U.S., it’s simply referred to by number in the Monastery.  It’s brewed at the Monastery Sint-Sixtusabdij (Abbey Saint Sixtus) in Westvleteren, Belgium.

Westy 12 is proclaimed by many as one of the best beers in the world. It’s also extremely rare, only able to be purchased at the Monastery itself.  No where else sells it.  I was given a bottle by a very generous friend who ferried it back from Belgium himself.  As with most things proclaimed the “BEST OF” whatever, it’s hard for anything to live up to that hype, so I try to prepare myself to just judge it as is, but of course that’s hard to do.

The “minimum shelf life” date on my bottle was 10-4-16, which I believe would be April 10, 2016 (other dates on the website appear to be Day/Month/Year which is the European standard).  Internet sleuthing tells me Westy 12 is dated with a “Best By” of three years, so this bottle would have been bottled in 2013.


The beer poured very dark brown, with a thin white head that was very persistent.  The beer lacked the characteristic “Belgian lace”, but as it’s rather thick and boozy it had decent “legs” in the glass.  It shocked me how dark it was (and of course I neglected to take a picture of it) but I’m not sure what I was expecting, having never had this beer, or really even this style of beer before.  Chimay Blue might be the closest I’ve had.

The aroma was strong with dark sugars and caramel and lacking in (my opinion) the traditional Belgian bubblegum esters and clove phenolics, perhaps due the the age? Very subdued aroma.  Very slight bit of oxidation in the aroma as well, but holding up really well for a 3.5 year old bottle.  Due, I’m sure, to the monk’s production and bottling procedures, so very well done.  I did start to pick up some slight clove and vanilla as it warmed, so probably shame on me for serving it too cold.

Now, what the aroma lacks, the flavor more than makes up for.  This is a powerfully flavored beer.  Strong dark sugar flavors mixed with all manner of dark fruit.  Pretty decent alcohol burn which should be expected to 10.2%.  This beer is boozy and you start to feel it pretty quickly.  I’ve had some big beers before but for whatever reason this one hit me hard.

Now, as far as overall impression goes, this is an extremely well made, well packaged, well stored beer.  Without a doubt.  Yet, while I don’t want to say it “didn’t live up to my expectations” since I think that may be too harsh, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.  Granted, I have no idea how I would have any idea what to expect, so I’m pretty much stuck in my own catch-22.  Would I recommend it? Sure.. it’s a white whale for many people, the Holy Grail of beer that they search their whole life for.  If you get a chance to try it by all means, do so.  Try to keep the expectations to a minimum, which I believe it where I failed.  It was a magnificent beer, but somehow didn’t fulfill what I was anticipating it to be.  Someday I’d like to try one fresh, but I know how unlikely that is to happen.  Thankfully 4 out of the 6 trappist breweries are available stateside.  Westmalle, Rochefort, Chimay and Orval you can get here.  The other two are Westvleteren and Achel (Which until I saw it on the Sint-Sixtus website I had never heard of).


30th Anniversary of Pyramid Snow Cap

(Absolutely shameless plug for the brewery I work for.  They aren’t paying me to write this, I just happen to really like this beer, but for disclosure I do work for Pyramid Breweries)

The days are getting darker and colder, the hop harvest has ended and the fresh hop beers are fading away.  That can only mean one thing.  Dark beer season! Yes, as the days turn darker so do the seasonal beers.  Porters, Stouts, Barleywines and Winter Warmers are the biere du jour.  There’s tons to choose from, and by all means try as many as you can, but I have one I’d like to add to your mix, it’s one of my personal favorites.

One beer that’s been around a long time but probably gets mostly overlooked is Pyramid Snow Cap.  Sure, Pyramid is not as cool as The Bruery or Goose Island Bourbon County, but this beer has stood the test of time for a long time, more on that later.

Snow Cap is a dark winter warmer with some really interesting “spice” notes from the malt and hops.  It’s very tasty with just a slight sweetness and a good biscuity malt.  At 7% ABV it will do a pretty good job of “warming” as well.   An English style ale, with some slight fruitiness and East Kent Golding hops for an nice spice. If you like dark malty beers, this is a good one for you to try.

However, this year is also a special year.  Snow Cap this year is celebrating 30 years! One of the original seasonals from Pyramid which has become a perennial favorite.  As such a special occasion would warrant, there are also two special versions of Snow Cap being released this year.

The first is Super Snow Cap, which has a little bump in alcohol up to 8.7% and some extra dry hopping just to crank it up to 11.  Pretty much the same recipe amped up. Normally a draft only offering, this year it’s being offered in special 30th Anniversary 22oz bottles.

The cream of the crop, and even more limited, is the Bourbon Barrel Aged Snow Cap, made especially for this 30th Anniversary.  A batch of Super Snow Cap spent almost a year hanging out in Kentucky Bourbon barrels adding oak, vanilla and whiskey flavors to the mix.  Clocking in at 10% ABV this is just the thing to (responsibly) warm up a cold Oregon winter night.  Available in 22oz bottles perfect for sharing at the holidays.


For more info on the three brews you can check out the Pyramid Ales page HERE.

In your search for a nice beer to warm this winter for you, may I humbly recommend the Pyramid Snow Cap series of beers.  As the website says, it’s a great time to get snowed in!

The Beer Collector

Most beer, the grand majority in fact, is designed to be drunk fresh.  Some beer, like fresh hop beers are best when they are literally just a few days old.  The moment a beer leaves the brite tank it starts to age.  Oxidation, hop aroma fades, malt flavors morph.  Some aging is good, yeast still in suspension continue to eat up compounds that make off flavors like diacetyl and DMS.  Most beer I would guess is probably at its peak after packaging about 2 weeks to a month and then it starts to go downhill.

Some beer however, does benefit from some age.  People debate and argue about what beers are good to age and which aren’t but a few common themes do emerge.  Dark malts tend to hold up better, so stouts, porters, barleywines tend to age well.  Also lower hopped beers, since the hop flavor and aroma tend to leave pretty quickly and you’re left with just bitterness.  IPAs do NOT age well.  Trust me.  Higher alcohol beers also tend to hold up to age.  In fact, a little oxidation can take away some of that rough burn from that 14.5% Russian Imperial Stout.  These beers almost NEED age to even be drinkable.  Bottle conditioned beers (like Belgians and Trappists) with yeast still in the bottle hold up well to age since the yeast will continue to scrub out the oxygen in the bottle and prevent oxidation.  Sour beers with non yeast cultures in them will do the same thing.  Aging will also mellow some of the harsh acidity of some sours.

Through mostly good fortune, I’ve begun to amass a very small (emphasis on small with our tiny apartment) beer cellar.  Most of the bottles have been gifts, judge prizes, raffle prizes etc but a few were purchased.  Some I set away to age on purpose, some I actually forgot about and recently discovered but they all have a few things in common.  Most all of them are barrel aged.  They already have some oxidation from the barrel, so they aren’t really going to get “worse” in the bottle.  Most of them are stouts or barleywines.  Most of them are high alcohol.  So they hit all of the criteria I mentioned above.  Will they all age well? Who knows.  I guess that’s part of the risk/reward circuit of it.

One beer that I do not have in my cellar but I would highly recommend is any vintage of the Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout.  Yeah, I know, they are Evil Empire now, but all the more reason to find one of the older vintages if you can.  I’ve had the good fortune, through friends, to taste both the 2006 and the 2009 vintages.  The 2006 I don’t recall being overly fantastic.  I’m sure it was still good, just not mindblowing.  The 2009 on the other hand blew me away.  It tasted just like a fresh 2014 I had at a release party 2 years ago despite being 7 years old.  Black Friday (BCS Release day) is coming up next week and I’m hoping I can get my hands on a bottle (or two? dare to dream) but I’m not holding my breath. (UPDATE: I went out on Black Friday and was able to procure some BCBS Stout.  I was able to get 2 bottles of the base stout, one bottle of barleywine and one bottle of coffee stout.  Stay tuned for reviews/tasting notes on those).

If at all possible, one of the recommendations I’ve heard the most is to buy two bottles of something you intend to age.  Drink one fresh, drink one a year from now.  See how it does, how it changes.  Of course the trick is remembering how it was a year ago.  You can take notes, but I’m not sure that would convey all of the sensory characteristics.  I’m excited to actually try this with a beer my wife and I both received as a judge prize at a competition.  The Ecliptic Belmont Station 19th Anniversary Barrel Aged Barleywine.  Since we got two bottles of it, I put one in the fridge and hid one in the closet.  One to drink now and one to hold.  Released on March 20th of 2016 this beer already has a good six months under its belt.

Another reason I’ve been holding on to some of these beers is because they are fairly special and I want to wait for the “right time” to break them out.  Of course, there’s not going to be some magic time that all of a sudden my brain is like “Hey let’s break out the Deschutes Black Butte XXVIII”.  I’ve realized with a few of them that the moment we break them open it becomes a special occasion.

Some of the beers I’m currently holding onto include:

2014 Firestone Walker Velvet Mirken (Barrel aged Oatmeal Stout)
Deschutes Black Butte XXVIII (2016)
Deschutes Collage II (2016)
Sound Brewery Old Scoundrel Barleywine (I think from 2014?)
Ruse Multibeast Brett Saison (2016)
10 Barrel 16 Barrels Pinot Barrel Aged Golden Ale (2013, pre InBev)
Cigar City Puppies Breath Porter (2014)

Quite a few of these were gifted/purchased already with some age on them, so I probably won’t hold them for much longer and I don’t have any fresh to compare to, but that’s partly the inspiration to beginning to build up the cellar.  Now that I have some aged beers in my collection I can try my hand on aging myself in the future.  There’s quite a few releases this time of year that I hope to get my hands on a couple bottles, again one for now, one for later.

I’ll do my best to take good notes and post some reviews on here when some of these special beers get uncorked.  I’m gonna start making up “special occasions”.