I HATE BOURBON BARREL AGED BEER

The illustrious KBS barrel-aging program. Yawn...

Here we go.  Please wait until you reach the end of the post to spew your vitriol in my general direction.  Yes, I’m sure some of the hatred is warranted.  After all, I’m going after something that so many Aleheads hold so dear.  Everyone loves Bourbon Barrel Aged beers, right?  Right?  Well, not me dammit!  I like my Bourbon warm and neat.  I like my beer cold and, well, I guess neat as well.  Is it so wrong of me to want my glass of Bourbon to sit next to my glass of beer?  Doesn’t the song call for One Bourbon, One Scotch, One beer?  Nowhere in that bluesy tune do I hear one Bourbon, served as a shot, right in the middle of my fucking beer!  Get your damn Bourbon out of my beer!

Why the hate, you might ask.  Well, for one thing, I love beer.  Of course I do, I write for free on a beer blog that so few in this world have ever heard of.  I love beer so much that, get this, I want to taste my beer.  Yes, I want my tongue scorched by the newest strain of blight resistant Citra hops and I want my face numbed by a heavy-handed malt bill, but I still want some real beerly tastes in there somewhere.  So I ask you…Why would I want to taste Bourbon instead of my beer?  Everyone and their mother wants to dump whatever concoction they’re brewing into a recycled Bourbon barrel.  I get it.  If you want your beer to be a “Prestige Beer” that everyone will line up for and send the blogosphere into titillation, then you have to age in Bourbon barrels.  You need it to be an Imperial Stout and you need to age in Bourbon barrels.  Yippee, you just sold a ton of beer (Well, not a ton since you have to limit production to keep up the intrigue).  Even if it’s not a prestige beer and not even an Imperial Stout, like Founders Backwoods Bastard, why does it need to go into Bourbon?  Just a waste if you ask me.

Look, I really enjoy Bourbon.  I like the subtleties between brands, the wonders that aging can play on the spirit, even the history and lore – Bourbon is fantastic.  I like Bourbon because of its strong, dominating flavors.  While I can pick up vanilla notes and burnt chocolate, molasses and corn grist, in the end I’m always left with one dominant characteristic – Booze.  That’s not a bad thing, I like the boozy finish that separates Bourbon from most other spirits.  This is the very problem I have with barrel-aging in Bourbon.  A beer will grab that vanilla and char that’s left in the Bourbon barrel, but it also grabs a healthy dose of booze.  Tons of booze, to the point that it dominates anything that the beer ever was.  The Founders Dirty Bastard is one of the best Scotch Ales on the market and for me the best example of the style that this country has ever produced.  The Backwoods Bastard?  It’s the Dirty Bastard with a shot of Bourbon dumped in.  Killed the beer.  Same goes for the KBS.  I love, love, love me some Founders Breakfast Stout.  Incredibly complex yet not one flavor overpowers another.  I realize the KBS is a wholly different beer but at some point my mind just thinks that they took my beloved Breakfast Stout, threw it in a Bourbon Barrel, then said “Hey, we’ve got a prestige beer, everyone will think it’s amazing”.  It’s not amazing.  It’s a KBS with a shot of Bourbon!

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m being overly dramatic.  I know the KBS is cave-aged for a year in Bourbon barrels and I know that Bourbon barrels are expensive and probably a pain in the ass to use.  Doesn’t change the fact that I think the beer is destroyed the second it enters those barrels.  I am not an opponent of barrel-aging programs.  Quite the contrary.  Bourbon barrels at one time were just simple Oak barrels.  Take any beer in the world, stick it in an oak barrel, chances are you’ve got a pretty cool beer coming out the other end.  The vanilla that your beloved Bourbon barrel beers pick up isn’t from the Bourbon that was housed in the barrel, it’s from the oak!  Leave the Bourbon out of the equation and just use the oak.  Hell – Char it, mar it, do unspeakable things to the bunghole on your own time.  As long as you don’t buy it from a Bourbon house I’m all for using an oak barrel for beer.  In fact, I’m cool with re-using barrels from other sources.  Chardonnay barrels?  Sure.  Cider?  Hell yeah!  I’ll even go as far as having a barrel that was used to age Calvados, so long as the beer doesn’t take too much booze with it on its way into the bottle (Pommeau barrels would be better, but who can find those?).  Barrel-aging is a tested and true method for conditioning beer and I will continue to support any brewer that uses them properly (By properly, I of course mean the way I want them to since I’m incredibly selfish and petty).  I love Sours, gotta have em’, gotta have someone who can make use of a barrel in the best way they know how.  Don’t want a Bourbon barrel-aged Sour though (Neither do you, that would be gross).

I guess my whole gripe with the Bourbon aged phenomenon is that I simply don’t get what all the hype is about.  Do you really like beer that tastes like Bourbon?  Do you like that boozy aftertaste that lingers on and kills and ounce of beerly goodness that you think you’re picking up on but probably only noticing since it’s written on the label?  Maybe aging beers in Bourbon barrels is just a marketing ploy, a way to differentiate the big boys that know how to use their toys.  Whatever the reason, I really don’t care.  You can have your Bourbon barrel-aged beers all you want.  Fight over them, trade them, sit in line all day while everyone around you assures you that you’ve made the right choice by seeking out a prestige beer that’s probably not as good as every other beer that the brewer has waiting for you inside.  For me, I’ll take my ordinary beer that went straight from steel to glass, set along side 2 fingers of Old Rip Van Winkle.  After all, they is my kin…

^Editor’s Note:  All hate mail may be directed at Dr. Ripped Van Drinkale, author of this blaspheme.  He may be reached via doc@aleheads.com or simply on the barstool adjacent to the one you’re on.  Cheers!

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21 comments

  1. Doc, you’re lucky that Aleheads isn’t some sort of paramilitary outfit. If it was, you’d be in line for a courtmartial right now.

    I’m going to pour a shot of Elmer T. Lee into a Backwoods Bastard just to spite you. You remember those old commercials where one guy holding peanut butter crashed into another guy holding chocolate and they were amazed at the magic it produced? If I was making that commercial, one guy would be holding beer and the other guy would be holding bourbon. Unfortunately, when they crash into each other, lots of innocent bystanders would be hurt because, let’s face it, those two dudes are hammered. But regardless of the tragic loss of life, the results would be delicious!

  2. I hate you :).

    Honestly, for every one of us beer drinkers, there is some sort of subtle preference that distinguishes us from our neighbor. I don’t want my tongue to receive the scorched earth policy of some over hopped beer, because like you noted with the bourbon, all you are doing is bastardizing a really good beer by over hopping to the point that it tastes like someone is playing a prank on you. But I do like a good IPA that is balanced. And I think that is what it comes down to with me . . . balance. You can have a tremendously awful bourbon beer where the beer flavor is overwhelmed by the bourbon, or vice versa, but if the characteristics are balanced correctly, you have a beer that is enhanced by some bourbon backdrop notes.

    In my neck o’ the woods, Raleigh/Durham, NC, Fullsteam Brewery released a bourbon barrel stout this year by the name of Igor. I think by this point in time, people read ‘Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout’ and roll their eyes, or say, ‘Another one?’ It has definitely reached a point where the style is beyond a novelty, and is reaching some sort of saturation point, but when I had Igor, it was a beer epiphany. And by ‘epiphany’ I mean that I ordered three more and growled at anyone that approached my glasses. ‘My Igor, fuck off!’

    Backwoods Bastard to this day is the best beer I’ve ever had. It sends a bolt of electricity down my spine and into my fingers and toes. I think that might speak to an underlying potential for alcoholism, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. To me, Backwoods is the pinnacle of not just bourbon barrel beers, but any beer, any style, period. Now I’m thirsty . . .

    To each their own, though. Cheers!

  3. He killed Fred White! Get a rope!

  4. The Haybag (my wife) would agree with you. In fact, she went on a similar, but abbreviated tirade, the other night. I love the marriage of the flavors, though. Precipitating the Haybag’s tirade, we had Schlafly’s Bourbon bourbon barrel aged imperial stout: Chocolate, caramel, and bourbon…If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

  5. Does she know you call her the Haybag?

  6. She does indeed. I don’t address her as the Haybag, but I do refer to her as such in front of her. I wore her down early on, and she has chosen other battles.

  7. I think my favorite aspect of this post is that less than a year ago, Doc claimed that the KBS was one of his top five all-time beers. And now he says that the barrel-aging “kills” it completely.

    I see two possible explanations. Either Doc’s notorious inability to drink “big” beers in his advancing age has finally and irrevocably altered his tastebuds…OR he was just channeling his inner Limbaugh and trying to come up with the most “controversial” position he could take on an extremely popular facet of the craft beer revolution.

  8. Barley, you were right on the first account. I have lost all ability to drink big, boozy beers that aren’t blessed with the antiseptic qualities of 100+ lip-puckering IBU’s. Perfect example – I can put down several bombers of Avery’s Maharaja with nary a problem other than a loss of fine motor skills and a severe case of verbal diarrhea that lasts till’ the morn. 10% ABV, keep em’ coming. You give me one bomber of any Barley Wine, Old Ale, or Imperial Stout (That isn’t insanely hopped) and you better get a bucket ready. I’ve destroyed myself and there’s no coming back.

    The only inner Limbaugh I channel is my ability to take down a box of bear claws and an uncanny knack for disposing of semi-conscious hookers. Other than that, we couldn’t be more different. My controversial positions come from being an uniformed, absurdly hypocritical asshole. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I’ll have you know that the KBS quote you’re referring to was from 20 months ago, not less than a year. Still, I suppose I do suck just a little bit. I must have been drunk. As Doc says, “It’s one of my Top 5 All-Time Beers…although that list is about 20 beers long right now.”

  9. Maybe I should have titled this, “I’m sick of Bourbon Barrel Aged Beer, time for a new fad”. There, that feels better.

    What do you want from me? There’s not a lot of editing that goes into a 1,000 word piece written in 20 minutes.

  10. I’m just giving you a hard time. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve contradicted myself on this site. Sometimes I even change my position in the middle of writing a single post…

    I actually wholly agree with you that the Bourbon-Barrel fad is just a wee bit overdone right now. And some of those beers really DO taste like someone just dropped a shot of booze into your beer. Personally, I think the KBS is a perfect example of how to do barrel-aging correctly. I don’t find it boozy or “hot” at all…just delicious.The Backwoods Bastard is a little harsher fresh off the line, but give it 3-6 months of aging and it’s exquisite.

  11. I went to a tasting recently that had Backwoods ’09, ’10, and ’11 side by side, and there was no doubt the ’09 was a more complex beer, as the sharp bourbon notes had faded over time and revealed a lot more of the malt character. Therein lies part of the rub with the barrel-aging fad… unless it is a very robust base beer, there is a tendency for the bourbon to overwhelm everything else, requiring further aging or perhaps skilled blending… neither are things that the brewers or consumers want to wait/ pay for.

  12. But speaking of hypocrites and flip-flops, I received this email from Doc 12 days ago:

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Doc Ripped
    Date: Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 10:53 AM
    Subject: Re: So
    To: Slouch Sixpack

    No, I love the KBS. That’s one of those rare exceptions where it works for me (Although I’ve stated before the i like the regular breakfast stout better). Hate is a strong word but it makes me look like more of an ass, which helps get my completely off-base argument across. I’ve always been a fan of the peaty Scotch Ales that mirror the tastes I like in whiskey without having the beer taste like it has a shot dropped in. Love oak aging, love aging in wine and Calvados, just tired of everything under the sun being dropped into a bourbon barrel. If I want bourbon, I’ll drink bourbon

  13. CZAR VLADIBEER S. BOOTIN' · · Reply

    Dear Dr. Ripped,

    I am liking what you say and am subscribing to your newsletter. I have made Karl attempt many times to age Baltika in vodka barrell, but at end it always tastes like kvass. This morning Svetlana is drinking a cup of christmas blend brewed with Four Loko in replace of water that Karl made. She says it tastes same as Obsidien Porter. I say she should not wear the lipstick on outside of lips.

    Czar

  14. Slouch, didn’t you also receive this email?

    From: Slouch Sixpack
    date Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 8:55 AM
    subject Re: So
    To: Doc Ripped

    What about the Backwoods Bastard? I’ve been drinking the shit out of that this fall.

    from: Doc Ripped
    date Fri, Dec 9, 2011 at 9:03 AM
    subject Re: So
    to: Slouch Sixpack

    I just had one last Saturday (For Magnus). It just tastes like booze to me. Fun to try, fun to split at a bar, but I don’t want 12oz of it. Trust me, I’m as shocked as you are that I no longer appreciate whiskey aged beers. I don’t know what happened to me. I hate myself.

  15. Pete Bochek · · Reply

    Just got me amped up for a Bourbon County Stout, and I know a little bistro that has a case of them waiting.

  16. See Pete, that’s the kind of comment I like to see. People get all upset when someone throws an opinion out there that is against anything they believe in. Relax folks, it’s just beer. If you want a Bourbon County Stout – Go get some!

    That was fun, thanks for all the comments everyone.

  17. I can’t say I blame you. I’m not a fan either. Very well written too I might add. I’m glad Evan told me about your site! 🙂

  18. Ripped—

    Mama Sixpack would say “now Ripped, hate is a very strong word. You dislike Bourbon-Aged Beers”

    I finally got my hands on some Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad this evening. More for me.

  19. Bell’s is releasing Black Note Stout, an Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. It’s currently ranked #3 on RateBeer. I would send you some, but since you have brain damage and all…

  20. […] Barrel-aging trend diminishes: While Doc’s “I Hate Bourbon Barrel-Aged Beers” may have been the most hypocritical piece we’ve ever written (and that’s saying […]

  21. One time I had a Dragon’s Milk bourbon barrel aged “high gravity” stout that tasted more like a “black & white” milkshake, than bourbon. I would give up a case of Hopslam for another four pack of that particular batch. I have no idea how one bottle could be so damn sublime when usually the beer is just “very good”.

    I’m excited to try my very first bottle of KBS this weekend and I bought a four pack of Backwoods Bastard to help me save the KBS until my dear old dad arrives for a visit, otherwise, I might not be able to wait…

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