Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sour Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy Tasting

With how well the Barrel Team's first beer came out, this batch had a lot to live up to.  A year ago there didn't look like much hope of that with an infection starting to take hold of our Wee Heavy after a few months of sitting in a first use bourbon barrel.  Luckily we don't mind sour, so instead of trying to fight the microbial horde with campden tablets and sorbate we embraced it by tossing in some bottle dregs from a sour beer tasting.  Hopefully the bugs/time/wood will treat the stout that took its place just as well.

Sour Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy

Snifter of Strong Dark Sour BeerAppearance – The beer is a beautiful rich leather brown. Maybe a few shades darker than a Wee Heavy ought to be, but spot on for an Oud Bruin (especially an imperial one). The white head pours thick and creamy, but rapidly recedes to a thin covering.

Smell – After a hard pour into the snifter the first aroma is straight up bourbon, luckily that dissipates after a few seconds. The rich maltiness survived the barrel, lending raisins, cocoa, dates, toasted bread etc... The barrel lends just a slight hint of coconut and vanilla, beautiful. There is some tartness as well which combines with the ethanol to give a fortified wine character.  Not much funk, overall pretty clean fermentation character.

Taste – Nice tartness, but there is still some sweetness to balance. The complex malt and dark fruit flavor is there from the aroma. The alcohol doesn't come through as much as it does in the aroma, but it is still present without being “hot” (not too surprising since this is 12% ABV without including the 1% - 3% alcohol pickup from the bourbon barrel). One of the most port like beers I've sampled, rich, fruity, and boozy.

Mouthfeel – Decently thick and chewy for a sour beer, perfect medium-light carbonation. The tannins from the wood are a bit aggressive, but they should mellow with some more time in the barrel.

Drinkability & Notes – For me this one is headed up there towards the best commercial examples of big-dark-sour-beer (Consecration, Oerbier Reserva, Bon Chien etc...) but isn't quite there yet. The alcohol is a bit more aggressive than the others, and the flavors aren't quite as deep. At 18 months this is still a young beer though, and it has plenty of time to develop in the bottle. Another win for Team Barrel.


Paul! said...

this sounds really good. Having brewed for a few years and having made a few sours i have to say the hardest part of this process for a beer like this seems to be getting a group of dedicated homebrewers together and getting everyone on the same page. good on you! I wish i could try a bottle.

Ryan_PA said...

As I read this post, I kept thinking I had a poignant thought to add, then you made it with the second to last sentence "At 18 months this is still a young beer though, and it has plenty of time to develop in the bottle."

I guess the question I have is, as this ages in the bottle, do you expect it to thin out more and perhaps increase in sourness?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

It will probably thin out a bit with time, although I hope the carbonation doesn't increase much. Hopefully the alcohol character calms down a bit, but at ~14% ABV it will probably never be silky smooth.

I haven't had many beers increase in sourness after bottling, with all that alcohol I was amazed that it soured at all in the first place though, so who knows what bugs are in there.

scone said...

Did the the bugs from the sour barrel hop to this one, or do you think the bugs were in the barrel when you got it?

I'm basically wondering about the tenacity of these critters for infecting a whole brewhouse...

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

There is no way for us to know where the infection came from. It could have been in the barrel already (it had sat empty for a couple months), it could have been from one of the 8 batches, or it could have been from the barrel next to it.

You don't have to be too worried about the microbes jumping into your clean beers if you keep separate post-boil equipment. Over the last 4 years of brewing sour I've had ~2 clean batches go sour, but I haven't had an issue since 1.5 years ago when I started keeping two sets of equipment (I still share fermenters and bottles between clean and sour, but tubing, racking cane, thief, bottling wand are all multiples.)

Hope that helps.

Jeff said...

Is there an update on this beer? Very interesting.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Not much of this batch left, but it really did age nicely. Stable carbonation, nice blend of vanilla and coconut from the charred oak (although that is dying down), along with dark fruit from the grain and microbes. We brewed a slightly lower gravity version that was the third beer aged in the same barrel.