Beer Review 0482: Foothills Bourbon Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout (2013)

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It’s been nearly a year since I have reviewed anything from my hometown brewery, Foothills, located here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A lot has changed in that time;  Foothills have gotten much bigger and in the process better, and my tastes have changed regarding some of their beers.

It’s not like I didn’t fully appreciate Foothills back then — last year, I rated their Bourbon Barrel Aged People’s Porter 93 points, and ranked it #6 on my Top 25 Beers of 2012 list.  But, I’ve been a little unkind to their Hoppyum IPA in the past, only scoring it 76 points. My point here is that I think in Foothills’ case, this is one of the few times where expansion has actually made a company much better. Hoppyum is now a regular in my fridge, and I really need to schedule a redux review of it.

Why so much better? Foothills now have a dedicated production facility. They also have a dedicated distributor; gone are the days of them having to worry about delivery. With those improvements, we’re seeing dates stamped on bottles and six-packs instead of only bombers, which tended to collect dust on shelves… and to make what could be a long-winded summary short, I can sometimes go buy Hoppyum in the store that has been bottled within the last few days. The quality of their beer was never the question, it was other factors.

With the upgrades come opportunity. Foothills can now use their brewpub to concentrate more on the type of beers like I’m reviewing today. With Foothills Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout (94 points) being a smash hit, drawing people to the brewery from around the country to stand in line insane amounts of hours just to get a bottle, the natural progression is to throw some of the beer in a barrel and make an even more limited, presumably tastier brew. For a few years, Foothills have been doing that, but the Barrel Aged version of Sexual Chocolate has been somewhat of a quiet release, until 2013.

Before we even talk details about the beer, let me throw these numbers at you: Bourbon Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate was released on September 7. On this day, the brewpub opened at 8 a.m; the first keg of the beer ran empty in just twelve minutes. By 11 a.m, the beer was all gone from the tap, and the bottles sold out in about an hour. Wow! Basically, the beer was available for three hours before it was completely gone.

The 2013 edition of Bourbon Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate was aged for six months in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. The beer retains regular Sexual Chocolate’s 9.75% ABV; if you were able to get a bottle of the beer, you might have noticed some label discrepancies. Foothills decided to use leftover 2012 labels and cross out the vintage on the bottle; it is my opinion that this should not have been done because not only does it create confusion, but having the correct year on the bottle is very important information for those that like to cellar beer. Not to mention that if you’re going to take the time to cross out the date on around 1400 bottles of beer, you could also probably take the time to at least write ‘2013’ beside what you crossed out. But alas, we have what we have, and you should know that this year’s bottles have last year crossed out and the aging time is six months instead of the printed four months. All other information is correct; I verified it with Foothills before writing this review.

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Pouring produced a small, tightly compacted creamy head that quickly dissipated. The beer, while pitch black out of light, appears to be very dark brown under a bright light. There are no particles or sediment visible while pouring, indicating a clear body. Lacing is patchy, confined to a few thin sheets here and there. It does regenerate the head well when swirled and there are some alcohol legs.

The nose delivers a heavy note of bourbon mixed with lots of dark fruits — prune, raisins, and plum, very grape-like and sort of jammy. As the beer warms, the normal vanilla notes associated with bourbon barrel aged beer begin to fire; the chocolate, as you might would suspect to find in something named ‘Sexual Chocolate,’ is here, but the bourbon almost totally masks it, and I say this thinking about the regular version. It’s also quite boozy, and that aspect ramps up with warmth.

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Tasting delivers bold, boozy bourbon and big notes of dark fruits. The bourbon and raisins, prunes, figs, and grapes combine well; the alcohol kind of cleanses the palate midway through the taste, leading to more delicate and complex flavors like vanilla, dark chocolate, and a kiss of smoke. This beer finishes on notes of lingering bourbon, dark, layered chocolate, and espresso beans. Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate is full-bodied, with a thick, creamy mouthfeel.

At this time, with only about a month out of the barrel and a few days in the bottle, I think the bourbon treatment overshadows the finer points of this beer. I know some folks might like that and in some ways, I do myself. But this is a beer that needs time to shine, and I think we’ll be talking a completely different story in six months to a year when all of these delicious flavors meld inside the bottle. I’ll be back with a full report.

Foothills Bourbon Barrel Aged Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout (2013), 92 points. Price: $20.00 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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