Month: November 2014

Taste the beer, not the barrel

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My IPA-swilling friend used to joke that her morning java was really a mug of cream and sugar with just a touch of coffee added to it.

I can relate. When I eat my annual piece of pumpkin pie next week, it will really be a mound of whipped cream on a plate with a little pie somewhere in the middle.

The barrel-aged beers on the tasting list. It's pretty easy to tell what I thought of each one.
The barrel-aged beers on the tasting list. It’s pretty easy to tell what I thought of each one.

But I draw the line when it comes to barrel-aged beer. I don’t want my taste buds assaulted by the bourbon or rum or wine or tequila or whatever was originally in the barrel that the beer was aged in. Unlike the coffee or the pie which are secondary to the accompaniments, when I drink a barrel-aged beer, I want to taste beer, not the barrel.

That’s the principle I stood on as I sampled six barrel-aged beers last week at one of my favorite places to enjoy great craft beer – Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, VA. For the rest of the story, I now turn to a playback of the event, with yours truly on play-by-play, and fellow barstool compatriot Griffin on color commentary. Take it away fellas:

Potter’s Oak Barrel Reserve Cider (bourbon)

   Me: I’m usually not a fan of ciders, but this one is almost drinkable.

   Griffin: Well, the bourbon really helps balance the cider’s bitterness.

   Me: Uh, right. (I take a second swig before pushing it to the left “discard” pile.)

Lickinghole Creek La Calavera Catrina Tripel  (tequila)

   Me: It kinda tastes like soap.

   Griffin: Well, about 25% of people experience a clove-taste in their mouths for certain flavor combinations. That’s probably what you’re experiencing.

   Me: Uh … OK? (I push it to the left.)

Three Notch’d Imperial Oats McGoats Stout (bourbon)

   Me: Now this one is good. The bourbon doesn’t overpower the beer. That’s the way it should be.

   Griffin: You don’t have to like it just because I work for them.

   Me: Really? Cool. (I push it to the right into the “keeper” collection.)

Epic Brainless on Raspberries (wine)

   Me: This doesn’t taste like beer.

   Griffin: It more like a wine cooler. But it’s part of their “Epic Brainless” Belgian-style series of wine-inspired fruit beers that they’re experimenting with. They have a peaches, and a cherries.

   Me: Um … yeah. (It goes left.)

2013 1st Batch Three Brothers Rum Dubbel (rum)

   Me: Wow. Uh. Wow.

   Griffin: That’s their medal winner from the Great American Beer Fest.

   Me: I can understand how it won. That’s a yum rum.

   Griffin: Well, it’s one of the last few barrels they have because it’s from 2013.

   Me: Wait, so their serving us stale beer? (I push it to the right.)

Hardywood Bourbon Barrel DIPA (bourbon)

   Me: Hey, that’s not bad.

   Griffin: Hardywood has really been making some nice beers, particularly considering how young the brewery is.

   Me: I had their beer for brunch one day. (It goes right.)

Thankfully my dinner arrived at that moment to keep me from sounding even less intelligent than I already was. And that’s another knock I have against barrel-aged beers – the ABV is usually so high that I can only have one glass before I become a babbling idiot. After sampling these six, I was done.

Still, it was a great experience. And thanks to Griffin for jumping into the conversation. I’ll let him bring it home.

   Griffin: When I drink a beer, I want to taste beer.

Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

— Eric Van Steenburg