This is a complicated beer, that is actually very different than first impressions on opening might otherwise suggest.
At the outset the appearance seems to be basically black, and the nose very strongly bourbon based. Neither are anything like the final experiences of appearance or smell that I am left with at the conclusion of the bottle. The initial bourbon smell drops off pretty quickly. The (apparently) black body very quickly takes on a dramatic reddish-brown hue that was not really apparent at the outset.
The same mercurial effect is true of the tastes. What seemingly manifests itself as a predominantly barrel aged beer upfront, quickly drops back into a far, far, far, more traditional, English style (i.e., sweeter) barleywine – and that’s a good thing; frankly I’m thrilled by that!
At the outset I didn’t feel this was really going to be a barleywine, at least not one that should be categorized as an English BW. By the end, I know that it is. I am absolutely delighted that the label actually says, “English-style barleywine”. I was skeptical, but as it turns out I shouldn’t have been; this is authentic, beautiful, and delicious.
14% is paradoxically both all there, and almost imperceptible. It depends on the particular sip that you take. Occasionally there is a mild burn of ethanol, but more often than not there is a rich, light syrupy, warm, viscous nectar. Warmth builds, and some of that very initial, carbon-based charring is lost very quickly. More sweet sugar continues to come, along with a toasted malt that one would expect. It’s round, big and satisfying. English barleywines are SO difficult to find these days, and I thought that the bourbon would have seriously detracted from that base style. It (perhaps amazingly) did not.
I am glad that the style moniker was true, and I was amazed that the bourbon did not really detract from the traditional elements of the style. TBH I would prefer it without the barrel, but it really doesn’t hurt to any extent.
Wow. A great beer, in fact surprisingly great.