This is a redux review that I’ve been looking forward to for an entire year.
Last year around this time, I reviewed Sierra Nevada’s Barrel Aged Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, and gave it 97 points. It went on to become #3 on my Top 25 Beers of 2013 list. It was a classic beer featuring what is best about barrel aged beer: all the coconut, vanilla, and spicy alcohol that you could want coupled with a seriously great base beer, Bigfoot Barleywine, which I have rated 96 points on its own. No slouching here.
A little about Barrel Aged Bigfoot: Matured in whisky barrels, this was a long anticipated beer that was supposed to be released in 2012, but was delayed. 2013 marked the 30th anniversary of normal, everyday Bigfoot, so it was time to bring this particular barreled creature 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.
Here’s exactly what I thought in my first review:
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, or classic on my rating scale.
So, what has one more year done to this beer, which was already technically two years old when I first sampled it? I find Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot line of brews to actually be one of the few beers that does indeed age very, very well. Only one way to find out; let’s pop that cork!
Pouring stirred up a very small, soapy, off-white head that diminished rapidly. The beer was a amber-red color, and was quite murky looking; in bright light, it threw off orange highlights and was so cloudy, it was opaque. Although clouded, there weren’t any visible particles or sediment; I did notice a ring of yeast dregs at the bottom of the bottle. Lacing was sparse, only leaving a dot of foam here and there.
The nose is still as spectacular as it was at one year ago — we’ve got heavy notes of bourbon, woodsy oak, vanilla, coconut, and plenty of alcohol. But there is a noticeable oxidation present; that doesn’t deter tons of dark fruit, especially prune, raisin, and plum; and there’s lots of sweetness with burnt sugar and caramel. And although Sierra Nevada says the hops have long faded, there is a bit of sharp grapefruit still in the mix.
Like the nose, the flavors are still all here, just a bit faded. Burnt sugar and plenty of thick caramel kick the taste off, then we’ve got bready notes mixed with vanilla bean, prune, raisin, and coconut. It hangs out here, fairly sweet, until the swallow when the more astringent notes of the barrel begin to show; a big blast of bourbon and oak show up, but they’re a touch faded and hot with significant alcohol. The finish presents a heavy bitterness, lots of sharp, woodsy whiskey, and minor notes of dark fruit and toasted coconut. Barrel Aged Bigfoot his full-bodied, with a medium, creamy mouthfeel.
Yep, this is still a classic beer, but it’s went a touch downhill. Oxidation seems to have faded the barrel flavors, but it hasn’t worked on the alcohol at all; it’s still really strong, which seems to be the exact opposite of what you want when you age a beer. But it’s still super tasty, and as it warms, it gets even better. If you find a bottle, I highly advocate you pick it up.
Appearance: 14 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points
Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale (2013), 95 points. Price: $15.99 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.
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 — Imperial Stout is only produced every other year, and fittingly so after you find out all the work that goes into it. 60% of the beer is fresh ale, while 40% is whiskey barrel-aged; that 40% that gets the barrel treatment is also a blend of several different years of beer.
The beer itself is brewed with a large grain bill that features several types of malted barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt. Imperial Stout is brewed with a Belgian yeast strain, comes in at 11.8% ABV (alcohol by volume), and registers 63 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
The pour made for a large, lasting, creamy head that settles with large bubbles as it finally begins to diminish. The head was a dark khaki color atop a pitch black, opaque beer. The color is spot on for an Imperial Stout; there are some lighter brown/mahogany edges. I noticed as I poured that the body was clear, and there were no particles or sediment. Lacing was excellent, leaving thin and creamy sheets of foam.
On the nose, gear up for an impressive amount of dark, roasted malt. It’s got smoke, caramel, chocolate, coffee, toasted and roasted notes galore — super deep and complex. Add in notes of dark fruits (prune, raisin, and a jammy, dry grape) along with licorice, char, and pinches of grapefruit and oranges, and you’ve got one yummy beer that is dying to be sipped. And as it warmed, all of these aromas became deeper, more pronounced, and more delicious.
The palate opens with a heavy punch of roast and a snippet of the Belgian yeast in the form of some earthy, dry orange peel. Didn’t know this brew uses Belgian yeast? Well, it does — you’d think the aroma would be a giveaway, but all the roast hides it. As with the aroma, the roastiness catches up quickly, dominating the taste buds with layer after layer of dark chocolate, black char, coffee, smoke, licorice, and dark fruits. Holy complex! Dark, rich flavors swirl around the tongue until the conclusion, which sees caramel come to dominate and bring out just a hint of whiskey barrel. For 40% of the beer to be barrel-aged, you’d never guess it. And the alcohol is completely hidden in taste, but apparent in feel, like it ought to be. Boulevard’s Imperial Stout is full-bodied, with a medium, creamy and frothy mouthfeel.
Wow. This brew is extremely nice and there really isn’t much to say except that it’s full of complex flavors, aromas, and it’s nice to see a beer that is barrel-aged where the particular spirit used doesn’t become an overwhelming flavor. You can tell Boulevard spent some time on this beer and it’s simply wonderful. Perfect for a nightcap, a treat, or an anytime offering — dance in delight, Imperial Stout fans. This is your jam.
Boulevard Imperial Stout (2013), 95 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.
New Glarus Brewing Company (New Glarus, Wisconsin) are all about keeping it local. “DRINK INDIGENOUS,” their bottle crowns say — and they mean it; New Glarus doesn’t distribute beers beyond the state of Wisconsin, saying it’s all they can do to keep up with demand just from their home state.
Founded in 1993 by Deborah Carey (the first woman in the United States to found a brewery), New Glarus started life in an abandoned warehouse with used equipment. Dan, Deborah’s husband, is a master brewer and was a production supervisor for Anheuser-Busch. Dan found copper kettles from a brewery in Germany that was to be demolished; when the retiring German brewer learned that his equipment would live on, he sold all of the goods for scrap value to Mr. Carey.
Like most craft brewers, New Glarus have a year-round series, a seasonal series, and a special, limited release volume called Thumbprint. Wild Sour Ale is a very special limited release beer in the Thumbprint series, especially given the amount of time New Glarus have sunk into the production of the brew. Just like it’s called — Wild Sour Ale — the beer is spontaneously fermented by wild yeast that collects in open oak casks where the beer is stored. New Glarus let this beer go for a year and a half before declaring it ready, describing it as a sour Brown Ale with hints of cedar, caramel, and tart plum. The beer comes in at 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) although that information (nor bottling dates) is not shared on the bottle.
This will be the first of many sour beers to come for New Glarus. Currently, the brewery are expanding to include what Mr. Carey calls the “fruit beer cave,” a facility that will house massive oak tanks and a “coolship,” a large copper pan where beer can spontaneously ferment. The addition will be located behind the brewery and is to be built into a hillside, which will allow for natural climate control. Wild Sour Ale will be a hint of things to come, so let’s dig in.
Pouring produced an average size, creamy head that lingered long after the last drop was put into the glass. Color of the beer was dark amber, nearly brown when held out of light; holding to light reveals a translucent liquid that had some lighter golden highlights. Although clear, the body had a slight bit of haze to it; there were no particles or sediment, and the lacing was minimal.
The nose gives the impression that this will be quite a sour beer as the cider vinegar hits first, along with some tart cherries and green apples. Dig deeper and the malty body comes through in the form of caramel sweetness, but this is greatly overshadowed by the tartness of a combination between cider vinegar, straight vinegar, and the more subtle tart fruits. As it warmed a bit, cranberries and grapes came out, giving this one a hint of wine.
On the palate, the flavors are initially tart but never turn obscenely sour; tart cherries mix with green apple peels and apple juice before the (what must be) large malt body brings some much needed body and a hint of sweetness. You can taste the caramel even though the tartness pops off, strong at first, then eases up, then comes on strong again for the finish. The final bow is the best part of the beer and where the fruity aspects really shine; there’s cranberry juice, apples, apple cider vinegar, and lingering cherries. After the swallow, you get just a bit of cedar, which is really pleasant in the back of the mouth. Wild Sour Ale is medium-bodied and thin in the mouth, with a very nice creamy texture and drying, refreshing feel.
Any surprises here? Yes, and no — anyone who reads this site with any regularity will know that I’m not too fond of sour beers and that I’ve been trying to get into the style. I found this beer to be totally 100% delicious, with a pleasant sourness that doesn’t overwhelm all of the complex nuances going on. The part that’s not a surprise is that this comes from New Glarus. Folks, this brewery is one of the best in the United States, and I’m not shocked that they produced this amazing beer and have plans for even more to come. Bring it, Wisconsin!
New Glarus Thumbprint Wild Sour Ale, 95 points. Price: $9.99 US for a four-pack.
Clown Shoes beer is contract brewed by Mercury Brewing Company in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Having only been around for three years, Clown Shoes have made a big impact on the craft beer scene, producing several high quality barrel aged Imperial Stouts — with accompanying reasonable price tags. I know that I was a little leery of the company at first, but after tasting several of their beers, they are some of the highest rated on this website.
The beer we’re tasting today is a version of their Blaecorn Unidragon (original review, 96 points) that uses beechwood smoked malts. Named Porcine Unidragon (a ‘blaecorn unidragon’ is a combination of a dragon and unicorn) for the meaty flavors the smoked malts impart, this beer is 100% aged in bourbon barrels. The ABV (alcohol by volume) comes in at 12.5%.
Porcine Unidragon pours with a small, creamy dark tan head that lasts atop a pitch black, true-to-style opaque beer. As I poured, I noticed it appeared to contain no sediment; as for the body, you’re guess is as good as mine because it’s too dark to see if it’s cloudy or not. Lacing is good, and there are plenty of alcohol legs to watch ease down the glass when the beer is swirled. This is an imposing looking brew.
On the nose, the beechwood smoked malt is heavy at first, but when allowed to settle in the glass for a minute, the bourbon characteristics begin to shine through, relegating the smoke to just a background player. Big, sweet tones of vanilla and dark chocolate shine through, along with rich coffee, caramel, and a touch of dark fruits (prunes). As it warms, the smoke starts to become more prevalent, again; it’s like freshly chopped wood smoke, not barrel or aged wood smoke. In general, excellent.
In short, this is a classic bourbon barrel aged stout, quite sweet and moderately boozy, but the smoked malts reign these big flavors in and provide a good bit of balance. Up front, the palate is hit with toned down bourbon and vanilla, and a good bit of ashy smoke. The smoke is meaty and while I wouldn’t call it bacon-like, it is like a meat you put on your grill with some wood chips that is slow cooked. The smoke adds a good deal of bitterness, but it is tempered with massive waves of dark chocolate and vanilla, and a mild to (as it warms) growing blast of alcohol, leading to a finish that gives a fresh wash of bourbon, woodsy smoke, and lingering dark chocolate. Full-bodied, the mouthfeel is thick and creamy, and the alcohol hit is more of a feeling than a taste, especially in the nose. After half a glass, I can feel it.
Score up another winner for Clown Shoes! I think the beechwood smoked malt adds a much needed balance to what would normally be a big, ballsy, sweet beer. It’s still big and ballsy, but I can easily drink my way through this bomber without needing an appointment at my dentist. And this needs to be said in size ninety font: smoke and bourbon go oh-so-well together. What a value this bomber of beer is, and I’m thinking only terrific things will happen if you store one for a year or two.
Clown Shoes Porcine Unidragon Imperial Stout, 95 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.
Bières de Chimay is a brewery located in Hainaut, Belgium, and is one of eight breweries that produce Trappist beer. Trappist ales are beers made within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by monks themselves or under their direct supervision. As part of the rules to carry the authentic Trappist logo, the beer cannot be produced for profit, only to sustain the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Any leftover profit is donated to charity.
Chimay was the first such Trappist brewery to open; founded inside Scourmont Abbey in 1862, the water used to make the beer is drawn from wells inside the monastery walls. Chimay produces four beers — Red (a Dubbel), White (a Tripel), Blue (a Quadrupel), and a Golden, which is a lower alcohol content beer made just for the drinking pleasure of the monks. Once a batch is brewed, it is transported to a nearby bottling facility; each beer is refermented inside the bottle, or dosed with yeast, producing natural carbonation.
Chimay can produce around 3,200,000 US gallons of beer each year, thanks to a 1988 expansion, and yearly sales exceed $50 million. Perhaps the most common of the Trappist beer brands, Chimay can not only be found in dedicated beer bottle shops, but also in most higher-end chain supermarkets.
Chimay White Cap is a Tripel that comes in at 8% ABV (alcohol by volume). Known in the 750 ml corked & caged bottles as Cinq Cents, this beer is Chimay’s newest beer, created in 1968, and is meant to be enjoyed as young as possible.
The pour issued up a large, soapy, long lasting bright white head that was fluffy and had large bubbles. The beer is golden-orange in color, with a significant amount of cloudiness. As you pour all of the bottle into the glass, the head gets much creamier, and the body becomes filled with a large amount of sediment — not big particles, but just a significant increase in the cloudiness. Lacing on this brew starts out really good, leaving behind thick, bready pods of suds, but the longer it sits in the glass, the more that starts to subside.
To put it bluntly, this beer smells amazing, and is super complex: bready yeast mixes with orange and floral hops, then combines with sweet, grainy malts. Those base aromas provide a springboard for the background players of grape skin, peppery spice, dark fruits, and gentle alcohol. Chimay White is just a great smelling brew that tends to keep the same aroma as it warms — inviting, and refreshing. The balance here is award worthy.
Tasting, candied orange meets bready alcohol with a lively carbonation. Make no mistake about it, the 8% ABV is here, but it contributes solidly to the flavor. This tripel goes from dry to quite refreshing in the middle, giving off flavors of white grape, pepper, and floral hops, then turns dry again on the finish, which has flavors of alcohol, dark fruits, and a mild to moderate hop bitterness. This beer is as crisp as a lager, but with a million times the flavor. I found Chimay White to be light-bodied, but with a medium, foamy mouthfeel thanks to the high carbonation.
The selling point to this beer is the refreshing quality as well as the high complexity of flavors. For a tripel, I found this to be missing a little body, and I did think the alcohol played a bit too prominent in the taste, but that might be nitpicking. This is a super beer worthy of the reputation and of your time.
Chimay White Cap Tripel Trappist Ale, 95 points. Price: $4.99 US for one 11.2 oz. bottle.