I brought home a Widmer Reserve Barrel Aged Brrrbon ’11 the other day. A bourbon-cask-aged beer sounded just about right, and hey, it was the only thing at Safeway I hadn’t tried yet.
I don’t need to talk too much crap on it. The Widmer Brothers have some good beers, they have some bad ones, and this isn’t one of their best. It’s sort of a watery beer with too much sugar and then some oak taste on top to make it more interesting. Well, that’s some crap to talk on it, but it wasn’t like a punch in the face or anything. Not like that Hair of the Dog Fred Golden Ale that I had the other day, now that was just straight up disgusting.
I digress. The point is, the beer made me feel like maybe the oak taste was just another gimmick. Maple bourbon bacon ginger hop-infused dry-hopped double-hopped extra double single imperial brown pale ale you know. Too much.
But two beers I’ve had recently blow that theory out of the water.
Consider Harviestoun Ola Dubh‘s series of scotch-cask aged beers. Wow. I like scotch better than bourbon, so maybe that’s part of it, but talk about a nice porter-like, drinkable beer with just enough of a hint of scotch to make it different — and yet add to the beer. I had the 16 (aged in Highland Park 16 year casks) and I would highly recommend it despite the cost, which was substantial, and the difficulty in finding the beer.
But the Ola Dubh comes in an understated, Worcestershire-sauce looking bottle. A bottle that made me very suspicious, a bottle that looked every bit the gimmick, came to me recently too: Rogue Ale’s collaboration with Vodoo Doughnut — the Bacon Maple Ale.
Does that look like a tall bottle of pepto bismol or what.
It’s great! It’s smoky and bacony, all without being too much or too little. Maybe every reviewer doesn’t like it, but it was a hit in my household and the local BevMo owner said it sold out like hotcakes. (He then added that he upped the price, the dick.)
The lesson might be this: Something got to be a gimmick because, once upon a time, it worked. So don’t hold oak casks against your next choice in beers. It might be a great beer, it might not. But it won’t be bad because they chose to use an oak cask.
It might even be great because they did use one.