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.
Indulge me here for a minute. I hardly ever re-review a beer that I’ve done before, unless it is part of my redux review series, but I decided to dedicate a fresh review to Bell’s Hopslam for a couple different reasons.
I’m no stranger when it comes to Hopslam. You probably aren’t, either, especially if you are into hoppy beers or follow limited release beers. Hopslam is released by the Kalamazoo, Michigan brewery each January, and it quickly sells out just about everywhere Bell’s ships it. And they expect you to fork over limited edition prices for it: I pay $19.99 US for a six-pack, and I imagine your price (if you can find it; it’s not nicknamed ‘Hypeslam’ for nothing) is quite similar.
A little about the beer for the uninitiated: Hopslam is an Imperial IPA, coming in at a whopping 10% ABV (alcohol by volume). The beer is brewed with honey, and six different hop varieties, all from the Pacific Northwest. Bell’s keeps the exact hops a secret, but do say they “massively” dry-hop the beer with Simcoe, a hop that contributes citrus and pine aromas.
When I previously sampled this beer back in February 2012, it became one of the first beers I reviewed to earn a perfect score of 100 points. I was floored by Hopslam, and it really opened the floodgate for hops and big IPAs for my palate. I had never tasted anything like it.
Fast-forward to 2013, when a new batch of Hopslam hit the shelf. It was overly bitter. It was overly boozy. In short, it just wasn’t what it was in 2012. But the bigger question that I thought at the time was: What if this IS the same beer; what if I’ve just had other IPAs that were as good that aren’t limited and are significantly cheaper? It was a good question — have other breweries closed the gap in the Imperial IPA category? Was the 2013 batch of Hopslam not up to snuff? Maybe my love for the beer was a fluke? I waited another year, and here we are with a fresh bottle. Let’s see what’s going on with my first true Imperial IPA love.
The pour roused an average size, creamy (almost frothy) head that is slightly off-white in color and lasting. The beer is golden-orange in color, leaning a bit toward light amber; it’s crystal clear, with lots of carbonation bubbles zooming to and fro. There’s just a touch of hop haze. No particles or sediment to report, and lacing is superb, leaving behind thick spreads of solid foam all the way down the glass.
And, shocker here: a punch of hops on the nose. Literally every hop aroma you can think of is likely touched upon in some form. There’s dominant tropical fruits (papaya, mango, passionfruit, pineapple) and resinous pine. All of the fruits are ripe and juicy; this year’s has a significant hint of orange to it, along with small notes of grass and lime. There’s malty sweetness here but it takes a far back seat; I got caramel, wouldn’t exactly call it honey, but it has an inherent sweetness to it that is similar. Hopslam has a beautiful blend of hop aromas. At this point in my beer drinking career, its aroma is almost unmistakable.
Alright, so it looks like Hopslam, and smells like Hopslam…
The taste? It’s Hopslam. Tame notes of grass and pine develop into big, juicy, sharp drops of pineapple, mango, tropical fruit juice concentrate. It has a ton of sweetness to balance out the high acids; this beer is like a battle on your palate between sweetness and bitterness, and all the while it gives a firework show of hops. Near the swallow, the full brunt of 10% alcohol hits; this is boozy, without a doubt, but it also serves to clean up some of the honey sweetness and set the stage for the heavy bitterness on the finish: grapefruit, pine, menthol, and bitter orange peel. Hopslam is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.
This is certainly better than last year’s attempt, but to my palate, it doesn’t quite live up to the first time. The beer definitely seems much boozier than when it got the perfect score; while I do feel it maintains superhero drinkability with the 10%, the Hopslam I remember felt boozy but didn’t taste it. I also think that my palate has been treated to Imperial IPAs that are on the same level over the last couple of years…so, yes, other breweries have caught up to the mystique and allure of the much coveted Hopslam. Perhaps that should be a signal to Bell’s that it’s time for some changes with this beer — not the recipe, but perhaps the “limited” status and the price point. Because, I’m going to be bluntly honest…when it comes to picking up a six-pack of this or Lagunitas Sucks (100 points, and my 2013 beer of the year), I’m probably going to go for the Sucks and have a beer that is just as good for half the price. And I don’t have to use sophisticated radar to track it down.
Bell’s Hopslam Imperial IPA (2014), 98 points. Price: $19.99 US for a six-pack.
Preface: We’ve already reviewed Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS) once before — last year, the 2012 version scored 98 points. Although it scored highly, it wasn’t really a beer that I was overly enamored with…however, after finding the 2013 version on tap late last year, I knew that I needed to review this beer again. So today we’re going to look at it once more, considering it is (arguably) the pioneer of barrel-aged beers.
There’s a lot of information to dive into before we get into the fun part of this review. First, a little history about Goose Island’s (Chicago, Illinois) Bourbon County line of beers: 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.
Released once each year, BCBS typically comes in around a striking 15% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 60 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). The malt bill is impressive (2-Row, Munich, Chocolate, Caramel, Roast Barley, Debittered Black) while there is just one hop used: Willamette. I couldn’t find any information about how long this beer spends inside bourbon barrels, but the bottle suggests it will “develop in the bottle for up to five years.”
Discerning drinkers noticed that 2013’s release included two different alcohol contents — of the bottles I have to sample, the 14.2% ABV version was bottled on August 20, while the 14.9% ABV was packaged on August 29. Why different alcohol contents? Well, with barrel-aging, things like alcohol content tend to be unpredictable. And with federal agencies that control the information placed on beer labels always lending a watchful eye, it pays to be precise when it comes to alcohol content in the beer you make. I thought not only would it be interesting to review BCBS again, but to also review both “versions” of the beer to see if there are any differences. I think this is a very fair take, especially since the beers are only nine days apart in age — and age is a big factor when looking at a brew such as this one.
2013 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout — 14.2% ABV
The 14.2% version pours out a very small, dark khaki head that is soapy and diminishes quickly. Color of the beer is pitch black, like an Imperial Stout ought to be, but it does have lighter brown edges. As I poured, the body appeared clear and free of particles and sediment. As expected for the high alcohol, there was no lacing, but there were some alcohol legs when the beer was swirled.
On the nose, we’ve got a very smooth, sugary sweet brew with a complex bevy of aromas. Up front, sweet caramel, burnt sugar and bourbon greet the nose, bringing in deeper notes of vanilla, charred oak, and sweetened coffee. There’s a light amount of dark fruits, especially raisin and prune, and some toasted marshmallow. While the beer has a stiff scent to it, it’s not overly boozy. When allowed to warm, the vanilla bean notes really come out more, and the bourbon is smooth and plays well with the charred barrel. It’s reminiscent of a beer that’s already been aged for a couple of years.
If you thought the nose was smooth, wait until you have a taste. Wow! Burnt sugar and caramel provide a base layer of sweetness that isn’t cloying but rather complex; then we have creamy marshmallow and vanilla beans to layer on top of it. The bourbon comes out in the middle of the taste, more in charred oak barrel than anything else; this beer finishes with a punch of grape dark fruit, high quality dark chocolate, and toffee. It’s warm but never boozy. Full-bodied, with a thick, foamy mouthfeel.
A classic beer without a doubt, this beer drinks like Goose Island took their sweet time with it. Subtle, nuanced, and complex, an absolute wonderful beer.
Goose Island 2013 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout (14.2% version), 98 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
2013 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout — 14.9% ABV
Bourbon County’s higher octane bottling pours a small, dark khaki head that is soapy and fades within 30 seconds of pouring. The beer is ink black but does have lighter brown edges when held to light; the body is noticeably clear as I poured, with no particles or sediment. Lacing never happened, but there were lots of alcohol legs when agitated.
The aroma has lots of dark fruits; this beer has a grapey edge to it that is somewhat vinous, but also leans to prunes, raisins, and some figs. The alcohol is prevalent, and the sweetness serves to amplify it even more; we’ve got lots of sweet caramel, burnt sugar, and charred barrel, along with spicy bourbon. As it warmed, it seemed the charred notes turned more into smokey scents, amplifying the bourbon even more.
It dominated on the aroma, and it also dominates the palate: the dark fruits open the taste with a thick layer of raisins and prunes mixed with burnt sugar and caramel. Booze is apparent the moment it hits the tongue; middle of the mouth transitions into some hot, spicy bourbon with mere hints of vanilla and smokey char. The finish is vanilla bean, caramel, milk chocolate, and hot, fusel alcohol. The beer is full-bodied, with a thick, creamy mouthfeel.
This beer shows great potential; don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty as it is, but it is overly boozy and a bit much. Even with the young age, it has excellent depth, and should round out nicely in another six months or so.
Goose Island 2013 Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout (14.9% version), 93 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.
Without question, I found the 14.2% ABV version of BCBS superior to the 14.9%. I have two questions: Why not brew it to 14.2%? — and — Why not brew it even just a touch lower, say 11 or 12%? I think the results might be surprising.
You know, sometimes it’s okay to make a beer and have it ready to go right at the point of purchase…
Happy New Year! Thought we’d start it out right with what is widely regarded as one of the best Barleywine beers being brewed today. Cheers and here’s to a successful 2014.
Three Floyds Brewing Company hails from Munster, Indiana, and their reputation is pretty stellar amongst beer drinkers. In a recent beer trade with Dave (Untappd user OnWisconsin), I jumped at the chance to get a couple of their brews, which are not available here in North Carolina…and just about everywhere else in the United States. Three Floyds have a very small distribution footprint at this point.
Founded in 1996 by Mike Floyd and his sons Nick and Simon, their goal was to breathe life into the then mundane craft beer scene by producing beers that were simply not normal. As popularity increased, the Munster location was created, and upgrade after upgrade took place. Bottling cranked up in 2002, a brewpub was created in 2005…with that being said, Three Floyds are still very small, even when compared to breweries like Dogfish Head, Bell’s, and Great Lakes.
First up in the seasonal lineup each year in January for Three Floyds is Behemoth, a 10.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) Barleywine that the brewery says is “hugely sweet with complex caramel malt notes.” The bottling year is denoted by the color of the wax used to adorn the bottle — orange wax was for 2013, making this beer about a year old at the time of this review. While highly malted, there should be some significant hops present — the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) check in at 80.
The pour roused up a small, creamy, and whipped frothy head that had lasting quality. This is a beer that is deceiving in color; out of light, it’s a murky burnt orange, but held to light it becomes a beautiful deep amber with edges of lighter orange. The body is quite hazy but doesn’t contain any particles or sediment. Lacing is very nice, leaving behind thin but solid sheets of foam on the non-sipping side of my glass.
On the nose, the big story of this beer begins to take shape —balance. While it might be the 12 months of age talking, this is an incredibly balanced Barleywine — the massive bready caramel sweetness is perfectly balanced by assertive yet soft grapefruit and pine hops. It’s lovely with undertones of orange peel, and a lot of dark fruits like prune and figs. And the signature of American Barleywine, at least to me — a bit of fusel alcohol that serves to further tame the sweetness. Behemoth is classic in aroma; beautifully balanced and hitting all the right notes.
I can report that the taste is very much the same. Simply amazing! Sweet candied caramel is tempered with grapefruit, orange peel, and pine; some notes of bread is introduced in the middle of the taste, and a big hit of dark fruits (prune and fig) spring up to wash that out. At this point, it should be said that the mouthfeel is exceptionally smooth; I’d call this medium-bodied, with a creamy, almost silky feel when swirled. The finish is big, with an even split of chewy caramel and biting grapefruit/pine hops, with an edge of spicy lemon. And as you breathe out after sipping, a fusel alcohol greets you, reminding you that while this might be extremely easy drinking, it’s a big boy. Err…girl. Behemoth is medium-bodied, and I’d have no problem polishing off this entire bottle by myself. Then crying because the bottle would be empty, but happy because I’d have a nice buzz going.
As I suspected, this is a great way to start off a new year. Three Floyds have made a textbook definition of what an American Barleywine should be, and the smoothness and high drinkability is just another feather in the proverbial cap. At one year of age, this brew is drinking great and is an ultimate representation of the great things that can happen when sweetness, bitterness, and alcohol collide. Bravo!
(You have NO idea how difficult it was to sit on this beer for the four months I had it in my possession, just for New Year’s Day!)
Three Floyds Behemoth Barleywine (2013), 98 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.