“Age appears to be best in four things; old wood…old wine…old friends and old authors.”
Francis Bacon, English Philosopher and Statesman
I like to think that Sir Bacon would have enjoyed aged beer as well, especially aged beer that has been in contact with wood. I tried to get a hold of his sixth generation great grandson Kevin Bacon for a comment, but the only comment about wood he gave me was…
“Clint Eastwood has always been a hero.”
Kevin Bacon, Movie Star and Icon
Anyhow, if we assume we’re free to substitute beer for wine in the quote I led this article with, then several hundred Cleveland area beer aficionados make Frankie proud by gathering up their old friends and collectively jumping at the chance to sample from a really good selection of wood aged beer. So was the case at the Buckeye Beer Engine as it hosted the third annual Wood-aged beer tasting on Saturday, January 29th. I was fortunate enough to sample a few extraordinary beers that I need to spotlight, but there was a great selection including several rare bottles that one could order samples from. After all the sampling was complete, here are the beers that stood out:
Jackie O’s Captain Barley Heart
I often wonder what beer was like back in the past. Throughout several phases of history, beer has reached a peak only to be knocked back, almost always with implications to the styles, recipes and cultural acceptance of beer in general. As tastes changed and big breweries dumb-down to the least common denominator, there’s no doubt certain combinations of flavors have faded away. Such is the case for old ale, which nowadays has lost a key element that defined it in the past, Brettanomyces or Brett. The old ales of London past had its trademark funky, horsehair characteristic but the use of Brett in old ale has all but disappeared in the last century. The wild presence is not only avoided in commercial examples but it seems that even the beer judges are turning their back on traditional old ale. The BJCP guide says, “some wood-aged or blended versions may have a lactic or Brettanomyces character; but this is optional and should not be too strong (enter as a specialty beer if it is).” So, I guess I’d like to share my review for this specialty beer (cough, traditional old ale) with you.
Perhaps one of the main draws from the Wood Aged Beer Tasting at Buckeye Beer Engine, Captain Barley Heart was brought to the table in a 10oz snifter. The beer looks nice in the glass, it immediately stands out for it’s dark brown color with hints of plum. The beer is cloudy and a tad on the muddy side, but there is a nice white head that sticks to the glass quite well. The appearance is above average, and I’m ready to move on to the part where this beer should really differentiate itself from modern Old Ales – the smell. The scent and taste this beer provides are truly unique. I’m picturing dark London streets in the 1830’s with small pubs where men in overcoats and top hats quaff this in the pint. They only let their glass touch the table when it’s time to take a bite of their meat pies (hopefully not the kind Jonny Depp served up in Sweeny Todd). After all, this kind of beer was hugely popular then and commanded a premium over new ale without the mature flavors. The scent begins the experience with an instantly recognizable barnyard note that is accompanied by raisin and vanilla. Some brown sugar and a hint of black cherry give depth and identity. This is expressive and really well balanced!
The first sip is worth the wait, even if it has been years. The combination of the barnyard funk and the caramel malt makes a solid foundation of flavor. Some hints of figs and raisins give the beer dark, fruity depth. Everything reaches a crescendo of funk, leather and sugar before the influence of the oak becomes identifiable in an orgy of vanilla, coconut and bourbon. The density of the mouthfeel goes great with the flavor component and style of beer. It is smooth and silky with a nice Brett finish. The beer is very drinkable for the ABV, and everything adds up to make it easy to take a trip back in time with this excellent and unique beer from Jackie O’s.
Does Bobby Like Jackie O’s ‘Captain Barley Heart’?
Flying Dog Barrel Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter
This beer is a tribute to Gonzo himself. The “S” in Dr. Hunter’s name didn’t stand for “Stout”, but it was closer to that then “Baltic Porter”. But I hate style debates more than I hate disco, and I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes. So let’s move on to the review. Barrel Aged Gonzo is black as night. The glass is full of the kind of darkness that you only encounter in the desert in the middle of the night. The time when the bats come out. You do know that this is bat country, right?
I consulted with my lawyer after inhaling the sweet smells wafting off the snifter. Whisky is just barely there, but the roast is kicking in and things are starting to get interesting. Some chocolate and coffee with vanilla from the oak; the flavor is dripping off the walls. Also a kind of tartness from the barrel, not sour, but full on woody. Just a touch subdued, otherwise, I’d have a new favorite smelling -bal aged beer. And I love -bal aged beers even more than a pint of raw ether and two-dozen amyls.
The taste comes on in an instant and almost takes things to the edge. How do you describe the edge? Well, it’s hard to describe because the only ones who really know where the edges exist are the ones who’ve gone over them. Besides those few fatally unbalanced examples, stouts push the edge every day. There is a great symphony of chocolate, wood, vanilla, whisky, and coffee. I love Stranahan’s from Colorado and consider them one of my favorite non-bourbon whiskeys. This showcases the unique qualities that whisky brings to the table. If I had my way, every day I’d drive around town with a case of Stranahan’s next to me and a case of dynamite in the trunk.
However, I must come clean here…the mouthfeel is a bit thin. I hate to advocate drugs, violence, insanity, or chocolate milkshake thick brews to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me. This was just shy of greatness, kick up the viscosity, walk tall, and kick ass. If you see this somewhere in America, don’t let it pass. Buy the ticket; take the ride. It’s well worth the price of admission. And remember to drink like Gonzo, write like Gonzo and live like Gonzo!
Does Bobby Like Flying Dog ‘Barrel Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter’?
Buckeye Brewing Company Barrel Aged Zatek
The Buckeye Brewing Company was set to add two offerings of their own – an Old Bruin and Agire Bois d’Erique, a wood aged sour blend. The Barrel Aged Zatek was a surprise courtesy of Eric Anderson, the Buckeye Beer Engine brewer, who aged this in a barrel that previously housed the SNOBS (Society of Northern Ohio Brewers) Rye IPA from a group brew a few years ago. So, being a second use barrel, there was little spirit character but a lot of wood. I remember Zatek being roasty and bitter, with a dry finish. It’ll be interesting to see how the barrel has imparted wood flavors! This was served in a snifter and, every time it was ordered the lights flickered.
The reason? Simple – this beer is the color black that the devil paints his bedroom walls. The glass is daunting at first with a dense layer of opaque dark beer with little room for compromises except for a stray streak of red in the bottom of the glass. There’s little head, but that happens with barrel-aged beers so I wouldn’t ding this yet without assessing the mouthfeel. Before I get there, I get to the best part – the smell. Barrel-Aged Zatek has a wonderful pronounced woody quality that smells rich of oak, vanilla and even a touch of toasted coconut. The base beer smells like you would expect an RIS to smell like – roasted malt is in the forefront, giving chocolate impressions, some coffee, and sugar. Black strap molasses and licorice raise their heads and proceed to the head of the class and are joined for a brief moment by a woody celery character. The Target hops still lend some bitterness, but the citrus from Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus I noted in the non-barrel-aged version are not present. Instead, the wood meshes well and brings some depth to the table.
The beer also tastes like the wood has imparted some intricacies that were missing in the rather brutish base. The beer has a ton of toasted and oak flavors, beginning with some vanilla and oak. The chocolate, coffee, and hoppy flavors of the base beer work well as the foundation, and the time in the barrel has made this very enjoyable. So, I mentioned that the appearance had me concerned that the beer was on the flat side. It ended up being rather absent of carbonation, which combined with the base beer’s lack of typical RIS heft to make this a bit thin feeling. The drinkability was enhanced by the flavors but a few rough ends made this just average in that regard.
Does Bobby Like Buckeye Brewing Company ‘Barrel Aged Zatek’?
If You Enjoyed this Post, Let Me Suggest:
- The Adam Avery Experience at the Buckeye Beer Engine Fifteen, count them, fifteen beers paired with Beer Engine Chef Greg Tushar's innovative, beer-friendly dishes. The food and beer would be served in five flights, each with a theme and each with a story courtesy of Adam Avery himself. The sold-out crowd of explorers gathered and made our way to the Engine Room to begin what was sure to be an epic night of great beer, great stories and wonderful food!...
- Great Lakes Bourbon Barrel Aged Blackout Stout Party Part of the reason I love Blackout Stout so much is that each year a batch of this luxurious liquid makes its way into bourbon barrels, where it resets for months and soaks in fantastic wood, bourbon and vanilla flavors. The result is an amazing beer that’s released once a year with a celebratory party followed by a “public on-sale” at the Great Lakes Gift shop....