Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Is it Bourbon or is it Beer?

It's Both!

I've mentioned before my beer preferences lean toward the dark and malty side of the beer flavor spectrum and I typically dislike hopped selections. This weekend was no exception. I attended a local gathering of beer, bourbon, bbq and cigar enthusiasts that encompassed both Friday evening and all day Saturday. Practically everyone that attended brought some sort of beer selection. My contribution entailed those of the pumpkin variety; Williamsburg Alewerks Pumpkin Ale, Schlafly Pumpkin Ale and Southern Tier Pumking. All great selections. 

Over the last couple of years I've indulged in a number of beers finished in bourbon barrels. Few are great, some are good and a number of them are mediocre. A couple standouts have been Firestone Walker Anniversary releases, Schlafly Imperial Stout, Founders Backwoods Bastard, and Goose Island Bourbon County Stout to name just a few.

This weekend I enjoyed a couple new ones. Both from Williamsburg Alewerks; Bourbon Barrel Porter (BBP) and Cafe Royal (CR). Williamsburg Alewerks has a nice selection of beers from their seasonal Pumpkin Ale, to their standard offerings like Washington Porter, Tavern Ale and Coffeehouse Stout. The Bourbon Barrel Porter does not use the Washington Porter as the base but a different porter recipe. The Cafe Royale uses the Coffeehouse Stout as its base. 

Bourbon Barrel Porter is aged in barrels from Bowman Distillery for a period of two months according to the brewery website. I believe the aging period may be longer just based on unofficial information and my own observations while visiting the brewery recently. After the porter is dumped, the barrel is re-filled with the Coffeehouse Stout and aged for a period of at least 3 months.

The results are amazing. First, you have to start with a great beer base and both the porter and stout are fantastic. I recently visited another VA brewery, Corcoran, and they also had a barrel aged stout that was lacking in so many ways. 

First, the BBP was outstanding. The mouthfeel wasn't overly syrupy or too thick and the flavors were wonderfully balanced exhibiting a profile of roasted malts, caramel, bourbon (of course) and milk chocolate. Carbonation is moderate and the finish is lingering with a slight smoky sweetness. Some of these types of beers tend to be too heavy, too boozy or too sticky sweet.....BBP is none of these. A great barrel aged porter.

Second, the CR was also outstanding. The coffee stout base really pops with an overlay of bourbon that melds very nicely. A friend sitting next to me this past weekend tried the CR for the first time and stated "I think this very well may be the best beer I've ever had.....". I find the CR to be somewhat more complex that the BBP giving up flavors of coffee, bourbon, dark malts, bitter chocolate and toffee. Again, the brew is not sticky sweet or too overpowering. 

I've managed to locate a number of these little gems locally so I've procured and bunkered them down for later enjoyment. These should age quite nicely. 

These two selections come in bomber size bottles and run about $8-$10 retail. 


  1. What was this magical gathering and how can I find out about it in the future?
    And thanks for the review, I'll be looking for these.

  2. I had some BBP on a beer-shop recommendation when visiting the US a couple months ago. Amazing! I think one of the best beers I've had in a long time, definitely in the top five. Unfortunately there is no beer like this made in Germany (where I live as an expat). Going to start homebrewing because I love the Munich beers but despair the lack of variety. Might have to start an alcohol/foodie club over here!

    1. Dave - my love of beer started with German beer many years ago. As the craft beer movement matured, the selections became quite deep getting my attention and moving me from import to US craft. I still re-visit German brews on occasion as they are still a good tip during the summer months.

  3. Greg - Lately I can't get enough of Barleywine aged in Bourbon barrels. So tasty.

  4. Thom - I recently picked up a couple of Barrel Aged Bigfoot. I'll try one now and lay the other one down to get some age on it.