Back in December 2012, I first reviewed Olde Hickory’s The Event Horizon, a limited-release Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. I gave it high praise, awarding it 95 points, calling it “perhaps the finest example of chocolate in a beer that I’ve had to date.” Why not age one and see how it does over the course of time? That’s why we are here today.
Olde Hickory Brewery is located in Hickory, North Carolina, and was founded by Steven Lyerly and Jason Yates in 1994. They started making beer on a seven barrel system, and the small batch mindset continues to this day, with batches being 800 gallons or less at a time. In fact, Olde Hickory are so small, the majority of their beers have hand stamped best by dates on the bottles.
The Event Horizon is brewed once yearly, using ten different malts and local honey. It is then placed in oak bourbon barrels and allowed to age for an undetermined period of time; release is always in the late fall. The beer is 8.5% ABV (alcohol by volume).
My initial review:
Appearance: 15 of 15 points
Aroma: 13 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points
Final Score: 95 points, or classic on my rating scale.
With around 18 months of basement time, let’s drink this one again…
The pour issued up a small, dark tan head that was creamy in texture, but didn’t stick around very long. The beer is a spectacular stout black, with not even a glimmer of light coming through around the edges. This brew is dark; it’s so dark, that I couldn’t begin to tell you anything about the body of the beer other than it didn’t appear to contain any particles or sediment. Lacing was good, leaving behind initial solid yet thin sheets of suds, but it grew more sparse as I sipped.
One word to summarize the nose: AMAZING! Well-rounded: tons of chocolate, both dark and milk, semi-sweet and bitter, plenty of sweet caramel, and it’s balanced with just enough bourbon barrel character to make it really interesting. The bourbon lends itself more to the spicy end, with notes of vanilla bean and mild oak. Waves of these scents compete, and as it warms, a dark fruit twist joins in. Sweet, complex, and nearly mind-blowing…now I’m ready for a sip!
The initial flavors go off like a bomb: thick caramel, sweet chocolate, then vanilla and heavily roasted malt. There’s a kiss of dark fruit (cherries and prune) before a solid note of bourbon kicks in and continues to linger throughout. The finish sees the return of dark chocolate, and it’s layered — echo upon echo of fudge bittersweet goodness, this beer is suddenly like climbing a mountain of fine chocolate. Wow. There’s a nice honey sweetness in the back, and the concluding notes bring a wash of hot alcohol, bourbon, and toasted oak barrel. Event Horizon is full-bodied, with a thick, creamy mouthfeel.
Not only has age been super kind to this beer, but it’s turned it into a work of art. The flavors are strong, complex, and it has all melded together breathtakingly well. When I say this was a treat to drink, I’m not exaggerating. Pure joy!
Olde Hickory The Event Horizon Imperial Stout (2012), 98 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
Today, we’re taking a look back at a rare beer, an expensive beer, and one that’s certainly well-aged. In 2013, Thirsty Dog (Akron, Ohio) released a bourbon barrel aged version of their Siberian Night Russian Imperial Stout. I reviewed the regular beer, awarding it 93 points; I rated the barrel-aged version even higher, giving it 97 points. What makes this beer even more special is that it was bottled already having been aged for 11 months, so today, the beer is around two years old.
Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 34 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 34 of 35 points
Final Score: 97 points, or classic on my rating scale.
The only real pitfalls to the beer I could find were the price ($27.99 per four-pack!) and a somewhat tepid mouthfeel. Otherwise, I described Bourbon Barrel Siberian Night as “tasting like a big layered cake that has melted chocolate chips inside, with scoops of vanilla ice cream serving as frosting and a bourbon syrup.”
I’ve pulled another out from the basement so we can see where it stands today…
Pouring created almost no head, just a very thin coating of oily, light tan foam that quickly fizzled away. The beer is pitch black, no light coming through; there are some lighter brown edges when swirled in the glass. While dark, the body appeared to be clear and free of particles and sediment, and there weren’t any yeast dregs in the bottom of the bottle. Surprisingly, lacing is fairly good despite the absence of head, leaving behind thin sheets of tan foam.
The nose, just like the first time, is incredible. The bourbon finds itself toned down some and the main player is plenty of creamy dark chocolate, along with caramel, and toffee. But the bourbon is still here, and it’s woodsy bourbon, with traces of oak barrel. The chocolate aroma plays very nicely with the presence of dark fruit; chocolate-covered cherries, prune, and raisin make this a complex nose. The bourbon is mature, not hot at all, and the subtle notes really started to come out as the brew approached room temperature. There’s hints of smoke, some sweetened coffee, vanilla, and just a glorious wall of bittersweet chocolate morsels. Amazing!
And the taste… well, it follows this nose. Mind. Blown! Wow. Caramel and toasted marshmallow start off, opening to chocolate cake frosting and vanilla bean. A gentle bit of smoke brings on sweetened coffee, rum-soaked raisins, and woodsy bourbon. This beer is not hot; in fact, it’s quite refined and very smooth, and has gained some of the mouthfeel that I thought was missing when I sampled it last year. I’m not even to the finish yet, and I’m stunned. Siberian Night ends on smokey, bittersweet dark chocolate notes, with an ever-present tingle of bourbon, vanilla bean, and sugary cake frosting. This brew is full-bodied, with a thick, foamy mouthfeel.
Age has done this beer well. Ever since I first reviewed this, I thought it was an underrated beer — in fact, I might go so far as to say it’s a bit better than Founders KBS or Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, as it seems a bit more drinkable. There’s not much else I can say other than if you see this, grab it; a superb blend of flavors, just the right amount of alcohol, and a good journey of a beer.
Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 35 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 34 of 35 points
Thirsty Dog Siberian Night Russian Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, 98 points. Price: $27.99 US for a four-pack.
I’m certain we’ve never reviewed a Brazilian beer here before; after 594 reviews, I’d say it is about time.
Cervejaria Colorado began brewing in Brazil in 1995, and rather than attempting to recreate American and other style craft beers, they set out to embrace their Brazilian heritage and brew beers with ingredients that can only be found there. They’ve got beers brewed with coffee, cane sugar, cassava flour, honey, and nuts, and all of the special ingredients come from Brazil.
The brewery itself is located in a sugar cane growing region near São Paulo (exact location is Riberão Preto), known for its extremely high quality water supply, tapped from the Guarany aquifer.
I don’t have much information about Guanabara, other than it is an Imperial Stout brewed with Black Rapadura cane sugar. The beer isn’t listed as a year-round or seasonal offering on the Colorado website, so all the facts I have come straight from the bottle. The beer is named for “the breathtaking bay in front of Sugarloaf mountain in Rio de Janeiro,” and is apparently Brazil’s first Imperial Stout. Guanabara checks in at a whopping 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) and only recently started appearing here on the beer shelves in North Carolina.
Pouring made for an average size, almost large light brown head that is creamy and long-lasting. The beer appeared jet black out of light, but when held to a light, it’s actually a reddish-purple color that has lighter brown highlights around the edges. The body was clear, free of particles and sediment, but there were significant yeast dregs at the bottom of the bottle; despite many swirls with a couple ounces of beer, the yeast never went into suspension. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind thin, solid sheets of foam.
The nose features a heavy presence of chocolate, roasted, and toasted malts. There’s also a grape/raisin/prune dark fruit aroma that hits right from the start. The chocolate lingers between milk and dark; there are notes of coffee, but the sugary sweetness kind of tones what would likely be deep black coffee down a notch. Yes, this beer contains cane sugar, but it’s not overly sweet on the nose. There’s plenty of caramel, and as you might expect, it mixes well with all the chocolate. As the beer begins to warm, a grapefruit hop note begins to shine.
On the palate, it’s roasted bready malt to open, and it quickly expands to a ton of dark chocolate, coffee, and dark fruits. This is very good, and it only gets better — the flavors deepen, and it’s sweet, but doesn’t even begin to approach cloying or even highly sweet. Instead, the sugar seems to soften the mouthfeel a bit; it also adds another dimension to the solid coffee note. It almost tastes like this beer has coffee that uses milk chocolate as a creamer. The finish is sweet with both milk and dark chocolate, and a parting shot of hearty roast and cinnamon. The 10% ABV is completely hidden, and this is dangerously drinkable. Guanabara is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy texture.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this brew, but I’m here to inform you that you’ll get an outstanding Imperial Stout should you choose to try it. I’m calling this a nice change of pace because it sees the typical onslaught of deeply roasted malts take a backseat to more chocolatey and dark fruit flavors, and it doesn’t have a thick mouthfeel. I also love the 20 oz. bottle — for a big beer, that seems to be about the perfect size to make an evening out of. I would love to try some other Cervejaria Colorado beers! Go Brazil!
Colorado Guanabara Imperial Stout, 94 points. Price: $8.49 US for one 20 oz. bottle.
I have to admit that I’m a sucker when it comes to a beer brewed with chile peppers, but nearly all of them are, for the most part, disappointing. But I hold out hope that one day, a beer brewed with hot peppers will come along and be great…so when I knew that Dave, one of my beer trading friends, would have access to this spicy offering, I just had to try it. Thanks, Dave!
Central Waters brew beer in Amherst, Wisconsin. In 1996, Mike McElwain and Jerome Ebel bought an old brick building and spent two years restoring it — when it was ready for beer production, the home brewers acquired some used dairy equipment and retrofitted it into a brewery. Using their own recipes, the pair produced many different styles of beer, most notably, an award winning Barleywine (91 points).
The brewery continued to grow, even as ownership changed. In 2001, McElwain and Ebel sold the facility, and shortly after, the main brew kettle cracked beyond repair. So on its fifth anniversary, Central Waters purchased what amounted to a new brewhouse.
Today, Central Waters is owned by Paul Graham and Anello Mollica, who together have 24 years brewing experience. Another move took place in 2007, which saw Central Waters locate to Amherst.
Released in late 2013 in limited quantities, Space Ghost is an Imperial Stout brewed with Anaheim chiles and Ghost peppers. The Scoville Scale is used to rate how hot peppers are; Anaheim chiles are fairly mild, only registering 500-2,500 units, but Bhut Jolokia, a/k/a the Ghost Pepper, is one of the hottest peppers in the world, rating an exceptionally hot 330,000-1,532,310 units! And don’t just think you’re getting a bunch of peppers; the backing beer is a serious Imperial Stout, coming in at 12% ABV (alcohol by volume). Unfortunately, you’ll have to look up the ABV online, as it is not printed on the bottle, nor is a bottling or best by date.
Space Ghost pours an average size, creamy and dense head that quickly fades. The color is spot-on for an Imperial Stout; pitch black and opaque, with just a hint of a lighter brown translucent edge. As I poured, the body appeared clear and free of particles and sediment. Once the head diminished, that was it — there was no lacing, and this might be thanks to the pepper oils. Or the fact that this beast is 12% ABV.
On the nose, you’d never really guess this is a beer made with peppers, although they do appear with notes of garden fresh bell peppers. This is dominated by heavy, sweet malts, most notably milk and dark chocolate, some caramel, and sweetened coffee. There’s also a pleasant whiff of smoke, and as it warms, a lovely dash of dark fruits (grape and prune) interplay with the earthy pepper nicely.
The taste takes a few sips to come in, so swirl it around a bit and get the spicy heat fully started. Pepper heat builds initially, drying out the mouth, but excellent malty flavors take over in the middle. We’ve got loads of dark chocolate, coffee, and burnt bread crust. Dark fruits are abound, and they play off of the tolerable yet growing peppery heat very well — dry grape and prune hit the heat and a gentle puff of natural smoke hits the palate. No liquid smoke here! The finish unwinds with layers of thick chocolate but bitterness builds with a growing presence of toasted (burnt) bread. Then you’re left with a nice heat that readies your mouth for another sip.
This is a really nice beer, but let me make a couple of points here: I’m not sure Imperial Stout lends itself well to a beer built with very spicy peppers — you almost need something thirst quenching instead of drying, and the big toasted note with smoke on the end almost makes this one too much. For 12% ABV, you’d never guess it, and the spice is very well done. Central Waters need to revisit this beer and play with it a bit. I’d heartily recommend Space Ghost, but I suggest you have a friend on hand to help you with the bottle or at least have a nice food pairing to go with it.
Central Waters Space Ghost Imperial Stout, 88 points.
The final Goose Island Bourbon County variant we’ll be reviewing that was (somewhat) readily available in late 2013 is Backyard Rye, which is Bourbon County Brand Stout dosed with mulberries, marionberries, and boysenberries, then aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels. Around 200 barrels of the beer were made; exactly 50 pounds of berry puree was put into each barrel, meaning a staggering 10,000 pounds of fruit was used in the making of this beer!
While barrel-aged beer was around long before 1994, Goose Island made it popular in the United States when they placed Imperial Stout in bourbon barrels to celebrate their 1,000th batch of beer made at the original Clybourn brewpub. After tasting the results, it seemed like every brewery either had or wanted a barrel aging program. Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout achieved legendary status.
Goose Island opened in 1988. John Hall was the visionary, and he was inspired by the beers he had tasted in travels across the country. He started the brewery with the notion that drinkers wanted to see their beer being made, so Goose Island actually started as a brewpub. In 1995, a dedicated facility was built with a bottling plant to keep up with demand.
In 2011, 58% of the company was sold to the world’s largest brewer, ABInbev. As result of the sale, many of Goose Island’s everyday brews are now made in New York. However, Goose continue to produce the more connoisseur-friendly bottles in Chicago, of which Bourbon County is part of.
Inspired by the berries they ate in their backyards when growing up, the brewers at Goose Island dreamed up this berry version of Bourbon County. It comes in at 12.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). This variation in the series comes in a 22 oz. bomber size bottle, versus the standard 12 oz. offering.
The pour went very similar to the other Bourbon County Stout varieties — it produced a minimal, scant head that fizzled away within seconds of filling the glass. Backyard Rye is pitch black, and there’s no lighter color to be found, even around the edges; when held in very bright light, there is a bit of a red tint going on. As I poured, the body appeared to be clear and there didn’t seem to be any particles or sediment. There was no lacing.
On the nose, the berries are evident with a blast of fresh fruit — now, let’s get one thing straight before I get too much further: I’ve never tasted mulberries, marionberries, or boysenberries, so I can’t tell you in detail about the berry scent other than it’s fresh, it’s jammy, and it also reminds me a bit of red Twizzler candy. Despite the massive wave of fruit, there’s a bit of room for the hefty malts, presented in caramel, dark chocolate, and roast; then we’ve got the barrel components, which give off vanilla, smooth whiskey, and a bit of wood. It’s nice. Incredibly nice.
The taste offers initial notes of dark chocolate glazed berries with a side of dipping caramel; we’ve got fresh berries and warming sweetness that transitions into just an edge of unripened tartness. The berries dominate initially, until the middle of the taste when the Imperial Stout starts to take over with a hit of caramel, burnt sugar, and vanilla from the whiskey barrels. Unlike the other Bourbon County variants, the barrel is toned down to a smooth team player rather than a ball-hog. It adds complex notes of vanilla, spicy whiskey, and wood to the delicious underpinning of full-flavored berries. The finish is quite sweet but not cloying, and this brew comes off like one of the best desserts you’ll ever try. Amazing! Backyard Rye is full-bodied, with a thick, sticky, creamy mouthfeel.
WOW. What else is there to say? Well, there’s this: Backyard Rye is an amazing beer packed with full, decadent flavors that are sure to wow. Far too often, I’m disappointed by stouts brewed with fruit, but this might just be the gold standard. This brew is to the point where you hesitate to call it beer, because there really aren’t any beery points of reference. If you’re lucky enough to have a bottle of this, what are you waiting on? I wouldn’t age this — I’d find a nice evening in the not-so-distant future, pry the cap and enjoy the ride. If my beer drinking career came to an unfortunate end on this bottle, I can’t say I’d be sorry. Waiting on this one will likely turn out to be a mistake.
Goose Island Backyard Rye Bourbon County Brand Stout (2013), 99 points. Price: $19.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.