I'm still shocked at how successful our group barrel project beers have all been. We've made some delicious beers even without the benefit of having multiple barrels for blending, or the temperature control that many breweries employ. In the the first round of the National Homebrew Contest this year (Tennessee region) the Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy (an Imperial Oud Bruin as I dubbed it) scored a 40.5 while the Red Wine Barrel Flanders Red scored a 38 (both made it to their mini-best-of-show rounds, but sadly neither advanced).
After the wee heavy was bottled in March 2010 we refilled the bourbon barrel with a big dark beer. I'd place the base beer somewhere between the indistinct meta-categories of porter and stout. With a second use barrel, the wood had already given up most of its bourbon flavor lending a more neutral contribution to the beer. We did not rinse the barrel until after we bottled the porter, so it will be interesting to see how the intensity of the wood flavor in the third beer compares. The Bruery is releasing a soured stout (Tart of Darkness) of their own soon, I think we'll see more soured dark beers of over the next few years as people realize how good the combination of vinous tartness and roast can be.
Appearance – Pours pitch black, even when tilted to the light no photons get through. The dense tan head has great retention and trails coating lace down the sides of the tulip. Nice to see this beer have a good head, there is something about a stout that makes it seem essential.
Smell – Smells like a Flemish stout (if such a thing existed): cherries, vinous, coffee, hints of vinegar, musty basement wood. Wonderfully aromatic and complex. It is surprising how little barrel character it has compared to the first beer the barrel saw, which was saturated in vanilla and coconut notes.
Taste – The firm acidity is countered by a moderate residual sweetness. The coffee-like roast is there as well, but more subdued than it was in the nose. The sourness is assertive, but neither harsh nor sharp. The finish has some of that damp oak. There is a gentle alcohol warming, but as funk/sourness often do it is hidden well.
Mouthfeel – There is enough body to support the disparate flavors of sourness and roast. Carbonation is moderate-light, about right for a beer with this much going on. Either less body or more carbonation and this could have been harsh (we're lucky it stopped at the gravity it did).
Drinkability & Notes – The character is pretty close to mixing a Flanders Red with a Foreign Export Stout. I wish it had gotten a bit more barrel character, although as it stands it is pretty close to what I would imagine a porter made by Rodenbach (which is ironic because Alexander Rodenbach studied English porter before opening the brewery that bares his name).