Beer Review 0332: Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale
I’m going into today’s beer with great expectations. Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barleywine, which has been brewed each year since 1983, is one of my absolute favorite beers and one I look forward to each and every release. I rated this beer 96 points last year, which is classic on my rating scale. Extremely hoppy when fresh, if you let this beast age for a while, you’re rewarded with a sweet caramel, toffee, and dark fruit flavored malt bomb.
Sierra Nevada (Chico, California) was established in 1980, the product of homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi. Today, they produce the United States’ second best-selling craft beer, their Pale Ale, a classic offering that has inspired many a beer drinker and brewer with its unmistakable hop profile. Last year, the brewery announced plans to open a second facility across the country in Asheville, North Carolina — production is slated to begin this July. Speaking as a North Carolinian, I’m proud to have Sierra Nevada in my backyard.
Barrel Aged Bigfoot, which has matured in whisky barrels, is a long anticipated beer that was supposed to be released last year, but was delayed. But 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the brew, so it’s time to bring this Bigfoot out of hiding. Aged in whisky casks for two years, Sierra says the hops have faded and the addition of wood aging brings forth vanilla, coconut, and raisins. The barrel version sees a hefty increase in ABV (alcohol by volume); regular Bigfoot is 9.6%; the barrel aged is a massive 12.2%. The release was limited, with some states only getting a few cases, and presentation is 750 ml bottles, corked and caged. This beer is actually a blend, as the brewery decided to use multiple types of barrels for aging, which included: bourbon barrels, Tennessee whisky, rye whisky, and single-malt Scotch.
Uncorking and unleashing from the bottle gave way to a small, bordering on average size head, lasting and soapy in texture. The color of the brew was a deep orange-burnt amber with deep red highlights — gorgeous, absolutely. The body was hazy but didn’t feature any significant particles or sediment. For such a high ABV beer, there wasn’t much lacing, only a bubble or two here and there, but the alcohol legs were decent.
The aromatics had a big-time barrel character, front and center. Loads of vanilla and coconut give way to sweet caramel and toffee, which make a delicious, inviting blend. Dark fruits are abound, with raisins, prunes, and yes, those addictive rum-soaked raisins. I love beers that smell like this. And let’s not forget the woodsy oak that rounds things out. The alcohol is completely hidden on this one, and it’s amazing. Could breathe this in all day.
On the taste, there’s a big layer of sweetness up front. Caramel is the main star, with a background of burnt brown sugar. But this sweetness doesn’t last long, and it makes way for a more serious slab of coconut, vanilla, and pungent barrel characteristics. This transitions to rum-soaked raisins that even features a little spicy banana, and then the large and in charge alcohol takes over — lots of whisky that combines with an almost hoppy-like bitterness; perhaps some pine and grapefruit — but it’s balanced with ample burnt sugary sweetness. As this warmed, the alcohol certainly became more prominent, but it was never too much. Full-bodied, Barrel Aged Bigfoot is a sipper, with a thick texture and gritty mouthfeel.
Folks, this is a stunner of a beer, and one hell of an example of what a barrel can do to an already great beer. I did think that perhaps the whisky flavors were a bit much on the finish, but don’t let that deter you. Sierra Nevada have done something spectacular here, and if you can find it, you need this in your life. Today.
Words really don’t express the enjoyment I had whilst sampling this, and I’m glad I’ve got another bottle for later.
Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, 97 points. Price: $15.99 US for one 750 ml corked & caged bottle.