Beer Review 0542: Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad (BBQ)

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We’ve got what sounds like a fantastic beer on deck for today.

Boulevard Brewing Company started as a traditional Bavarian brewhouse on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City. The first beer made, in 1989, was Boulevard Pale Ale, and John McDonald, the founder, delivered the first keg of it to a local restaurant. Fast forward to 2006, when the brewery made major expansions, increasing from a modest 6,000 barrels to the aforementioned 600,000 barrels. Quite a jump!

Recently, Boulevard was purchased by Duvel Moortgat, a family-controlled Belgian brewery who also own Brewery Ommegang, another Belgian-inspired American beer maker.

In addition to a full regular line-up of beers, Boulevard makes a “Smokestack Series,” which are all big beers in big bottles. Consider it the experimental side of Boulevard — Bourbon Barrel Quad, affectionately known as BBQ (a nod to Kansas City barbecue), is based on their The Sixth Glass, a Quadrupel that isn’t barrel aged. (I rated The Sixth Glass 91 points on 11/24/12.) When you take that beer and put it in bourbon barrels to age, you get BBQ — but wait, there’s more.

Not only is BBQ aged in oak bourbon barrels, but some of the beer spends upwards of three years in the vessels; the beer is blended using ales of different ages to produce the optimum flavor. 84% of the beer is aged in the barrels, while the remaining 16% is fresh beer. Once again: but wait, there’s more!

In addition to the barrel aging, Boulevard periodically check the barrels and add cherries to replace the “angels’ share” of the beer. If you’re unfamiliar with barrel aging, the “angels’ share” is what is lost to evaporation during the aging process. BBQ is a beast of a beer, coming in at 11.8% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 26 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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No trouble with the cork on this bottle, as it comes off with little struggle and a satisfying pop. The pour produced a large, creamy head that became very foamy as it started to fade, which took quite a while — this one had staying power. The color was a very nice amber-red; the beer looked positively vibrant in the glass, especially when capped with a fluffy head. The body was very cloudy and murky, but there weren’t any visible particles or sediment floating about. Lacing was quite sparse, but that is to be expected with a high ABV beer such as this — the head did regenerate very well, and there were plenty of alcohol legs to admire.

The nose: AMAZING. Holy wow. Big bourbon and associated barrel notes, such as vanilla and smokey oak. Make no bones about it, this brew is exceptionally sweet, with a heaping truck load of caramel malt and bready dough. The Belgian yeast is in full force; there’s also significant dark fruits, prunes and raisins especially, and the alcohol is here but is a welcome addition, balancing out the sweetness. The sweet end also has a bit of a darker side, featuring molasses, brown and burnt sugars. Throw in a dash of cinnamon and orange peel, and you’ve got one hell of an aromatic beer that only deepens in complexity as it begins to warm.

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The biggest thing I noticed at first blush on the palate was the cherries — absent on the nose, and described on the bottle as “subtle,” the cherries in BBQ are anything but a shrinking violet. And that’s not a bad thing. Initial flavors hit with a wave of vanilla and bourbon, along with those cherries, which are mildly tart at first. A large wave of sweetness comes in, bringing caramel that is soaked on fresh baked bread. The dark fruits are light, with hints of rum-soaked raisins, prunes, and figs; the alcohol starts to ramp up in the middle of the taste, bringing on a warmth and a touch of booziness to the taste. To my palate, the alcohol adds some depth, but depending on how you like bourbon and heavy booze, your mileage may vary. The alcohol serves to clean off the palate, readying it for the finish of hot buttered vanilla, bourbon, woodsy, earthy oak, and another hit of the cherries, this time sweet. Without a doubt, BBQ is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel, and drying finish that thickly lays on the barrel characteristics.

Fellow beer lovers, this beer is INCREDIBLE! Age it if you want, but it’s ready to go. The cherries really add a unique touch, and I don’t know if Boulevard is just downplaying the role they play or if they’re more prominent in the 2013 batch, but this fruit is much more than “subtle.” It really adds a powerful dimension to the beer and gives the already prominent barrel characters more teeth. Even at 11.8%, drinkability is through the roof — I started to feel this beer and had to slow down a bit. Just yummy and exceptionally made. Well done, Boulevard!

Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad (BBQ), 97 points. Price: $13.49 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.

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