Black Tuesday, the last Tuesday of October, marks a big black eye for our country’s economy. In the beer world, it means bourbon barrel-aged beers are being released! Filling freshly-emptied bourbon barrels with Russian Imperial Stout isn’t a new concept, but some breweries in Orange County have perfected the art.
Bourbon barrels do a few things for beer besides impart bourbon character: Barrels “season” a beer with three major flavor and aroma components. Vanillin, tannins and caramelization, which over time can add depth, complexity, and sweetness. When you’re enjoying one of these beers, don’t be surprised to pick up wafts of burnt sugar, marshmallow, sweet smoke, caramel, vanilla and even cookie dough—all “seasonings” from the bourbon barrels. Oak also works to produce a woody astringency that can add body and mouthfeel to the beer. Think about that sinful chocolate dessert at a fancy restaurant when you were a kid. These beers hit that level of awesome.
The most important thing you’ll find with these beers? They’re extremely hard to make, causing them to be both elusive and expensive. Hopping on a brewery’s mailing list is the best way to increase your odds of enjoying one.
The Bruery Black Tuesday: Released on the last Tuesday of October, this beer was doomed from the first time it was brewed. Bruers were burned with hot liquid spewing throughout the brewhouse the first time it was made, hence the ominous name. Re-brews of it have continued to add to the lore, crashing web servers that sell the beer on a yearly basis. The Bruery recently moved to a lottery system, which seemed to fix the server issues, but last year I suffered the ‘great depression’ from not getting a bottle. 2015’s vintage is 19.9% ABV, yet sips like a decadent boozy dessert.
Barley Forge Brewing Co. Barrel Aged Fugue State: Released for their first anniversary on 10/24, it’s impressive to taste the full depth of what’s to come for Barley Forge. Aged for only six months on oak, hints cinnamon, cocoa, vanilla and other caramely surprises appear on your palate, perhaps confused how they got there. Still on draft/bottles at the tasting room!
Cismontane Brewing Co. Black’s Nocturne: Although this beer was a pre-order sale only, I highly recommend getting on Cismontane’s mailing list and keep a keen eye out for its release next year. It’s notably softer than other barrel-aged beers of the style,
having been blended with fresh stout prior to being bottled (edit- this release was not blended per Cismontane’s website at the time of writing, however side by side with other BA stouts, was perceived as softer, less gripping booze character…a good thing). What you end up with is a cocoa, bitter chocolate-forward beer with kicks of vanilla and some fruity essences, perhaps carried through from the Maker’s Mark barrels.
TAPS Remy Imperial Stout News! I just got word that only one barrel of Remy exists, and it may be the last. If you were lucky enough to taste Remy’s Pappy, you’re part of an elite crowd as those barrels are impossible to get. Be on the lookout for TAPS Barrel Aged Velvet Hog come January.
Got a favorite Orange County Bourbon Barrel-Aged beer? Let us know in the comments!