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Blinded by the Barrel Aging

Barrel-aging can no longer be called the sexy new thing in beer. Almost every new brewery is trying their hands at it at least once in a while. But that doesn’t mean all are making the kind of quality consumers have come to expect from barrel-aged beer.

The key is balance (like in so many things). You want the original beer to still present itself in some fashion, but countered by a wood character. The original use of the barrel (e.g., bourbon, red wine, etc.) should also come through. The beer shouldn’t be too boozy, but if you can’t tell the barrel has deposited some extra alcohol something is wrong too.

In short not an easy task.

I had the notion of balance in my head a couple weeks ago when I opened Blindman Brewing’s 2017 version of their Barrel-Aged Porter, this year in bourbon barrels. I suspect I am late to the party once again with this, as they released it back in mid-October and it is very likely it is already gone. If not, be sure to not dally if you want to find some.

It pours opaque black, more like a stout. It presents a thin dark tan head with some moderate lacing. The aroma offers bourbon upfront, some vanilla, hints of dark roast, dark brown sugar and molasses. Some subtle woodiness lingers in the background.

I take a sip and light treacle and chocolate notes topped by light roast start in right away. The middle picks up a light bourbon character, some sweet woodiness and a slick vanilla note.  I also pick up a touch of earthiness as well as a coffee background mixed with a light sweetness that makes the beer seem like a spiked coffee of some kind. The linger is slightly boozy with a sweet bourbon edge, some roast and bit of dark bitter chocolate. The body comes across as a bit thinner than I would like – the barrel seems to have stripped away some of the fullness.

The beer has some nice barrel character to it, along with a rounded flavour. I find the roast a bit too assertive, especially since I don’t find it quite so upfront in the original version of the beer (Triphammer Porter). I also would have liked to see a bit more of the original porter come through – a beer I quite enjoy – as it comes across a bit thinner than a porter should. However, that is the risk with barrel-aging. A price is always to be paid for gaining the loveliness of the barrel and its former contents. Some variables you simply can’t control.

Still, overall it is a nice sipper and an enjoyable experience. Also a good lesson that making a world-class barrel-aged beer is hard, but that you don’t have to ace it to produce an enjoyable, worthy offering.

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