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 firstname.lastname@example.org or simply on the barstool adjacent to the one you’re on. Cheers!