Category Archives: Barrel Aged

Connecticut Valley Bravo Tango

Connecticut Valley’s first bourbon-barrel-aged offering — an 11% imperial stout released in limited quantity for its first anniversary — wowed our panel with a fantastic, syrupy mouthfeel and huge notes of chocolate, coffee, bourbon and some smoke. They knocked it out of the park on their first barrel-aged offering. The aftertaste was a bit mouth-drying, but the lingering bourbon and chocolate more than made up for it! Grab some while you can.

89 points

Harpoon Czernoboak

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rating_worldclass95 points

The story goes…brewmasters at Harpoon’s Windsor, Vermont, brewery were experimenting in early 2015 with barrel-aging imperial stout as part of Harpoon’s “pilot series.”

From their Czernobog imperial stout, they created a smooth, mellow, labor-intensive small batch pilot they simply called “Maple Bourbon Barrel-Aged Czernobog.”

harboon_czernoboakWe were lucky enough to stop by during its short window of availability, and while we didn’t officially rate it, it was fantastic enough for us to pen an open letter to Harpoon, begging them to produce it again.

That’s where we thought the story ended.

Fast-forward to November 2016 — a year-and-a-half later. The Basement Beer Tastings once again visited Harpoon, and noticed a strange spelling on one of the tap handles. It didn’t read “Czernobog,” as you’d expect. It instead read “Czernoboak.”

We asked our host, Harpoon staffer Cheyanne, about the curious spelling. And when we heard “barrel-aged,” all the pieces of the story started to come together.

See, little did we know at the time, but the brewmasters refilled those pilot oak bourbon barrels with more Czernobog, and placed them back in cold storage. There they sat, and were quickly forgotten.

They were rediscovered this month, Cheyanne told us, and what the long soak produced was truly World Class. We enjoyed Czernoboak almost as much as sharing stories with Cheyanne, and took home Harpoon’s barrel-aged Czernoboak to rate.

Czernoboak pours like its younger self, Czernobog — opaque dark brown, near black. But the carbonation of the oak-aged version produces a head that is even more of a mocha tan color. Our panelists awarded it a perfect score, as the head lasted and produced a fair amount of lacing on the glass. Carbonation was lively, but light.

Smell also received perfect scores. Czernoboak impressed with huge aromas of cocoa, vanilla and tons of oak, with notable alcohol. One panelist remarked, “The smell screams, ‘I bring the party!'”

Mouthfeel received near-perfect scores, with a rich buttery texture. While buttery, though, for an aged stout, we wished it had a little more of a mouth-coating feel.

Our panel loved the taste — a sweet, malt-forward stout with strong flavors of cocoa, vanilla and toasted coconut, with lesser notes of bourbon. The alcohol of this 9.5% ABV imperial tingles on the tongue.

The sweetness dissipates quickly as the aftertaste develops — dominated by cocoa, with a wonderful blend of light coffee bitterness. While near-perfect, the aftertaste lost a couple of points from the panel, which noted a bit of a chalkiness. Still, that’s little to detract from the complex flavor profile that lingers through the beer.

And as a nice side effect, that light chalkiness begs you to take another sip, and the entire voyage from sweet malt to cocoa bitterness begins anew. As a result of this effect and the overall quality of the brew, our panelists gave Czernoboak huge numbers for drinkability.

As of this posting, Czernoboak is our top-rated beer, with a overall World Class score of 94.67. Congratulations, Harpoon.

Did Harpoon read our 2015 open request for more barrel-aging, and take it to heart? Probably not…but at least we can say we knew continuing to produce a barrel-aged version of Czernobog was a good idea.

So, thank you, Harpoon, for the beer, the fantastic hospitality, and most of all…for continuing to pursue your barrel-aged imperial stout. Czernoboak is the reward we all share.

(Appearance 10, Smell 10, Mouthfeel 4.67, Taste 23.67, Aftertaste 18.67, Drinkability 27.67)

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Opa Opa Coconut & Hazelnut Imperial Stout (Bourbon Barrel Aged)

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rating_basement45 points

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

That was the typical reaction after the panel tasted Opa Opa’s ridiculously long titled “Coconut and Hazelnut Imperial Stout (Bourbon Barrel Aged).”

Okay, I may be exaggerating our reaction slightly to draw the readers in…much in the same way Opa Opa seemingly exaggerated with its promise of coconut, hazelnut, bourbon…and, well, stout.

In all opaopacoconuthazelnuthonesty, we should have clued in to the palate disaster waiting for us from the extremely small font used on the label to note the bourbon barrel aging of the beer.

If I were a brewer, anything I barrel-aged would most certainly be proclaimed loudly and proudly on the packaging.  Designating such small font doesn’t give justice to the time intensive process of barrel aging.

However,  after tasting this beer, we understood why such a nondescript font size was utilized.  Not one panelist noted the word bourbon on their tasting sheet.  So absent was bourbon from this brew that the word wasn’t even used to note the nonexistence of its flavor.

If we had to guess, the barrel aging process probably involved placing the pre-bottled beer next to a bourbon barrel and hoping the essence would soak in due to proximity…similar to the way The Basement Beer Tastings hopes to soak in readers due to our search engine proximity to more highly touted beer review websites.  Alas in both cases, it’s not happening.

Since I’ve already let the cat out of the bag about the beer’s taste, I might as well continue with the savory descriptors the panelists used in describing CHIS’s flavor.  (Yup, I’m referring to this as CHIS because having to write “Coconut and Hazelnut Imperial Stout” multiple times is just going to infuriate me.)

Sour, bitter and chemical burn were the highlights of the panelists’ views on taste.  Even the mouthfeel was rather lackluster, with most finding CHIS to be fizzy, light, and watery.

As bad as that seems, it doesn’t compare to the fact that the most common word used to describe the smell was “paint.”  More specifically, latex paint.  On the other hand, at least no one described the smell as lead paint.

Aftertaste was the one area where a scant trace of CHIS’s namesake appeared.  Some panelists were able to detect very light coconut, though it wasn’t enough to redeem the brew or change the harsh opinions that were being formed.  As such, drinkability did not turn out favorably.

Now, observant reader, you may have noticed that appearance has yet to be discussed.  That’s because I’ve decided to save the best for last.  Literally.

The best part of this beer was the appearance, with the panel noting its dark color, reddish hues and carbonation.  And while it didn’t stack up to the appearance of most of the other evening’s selections, we can’t say that CHIS is all bad.

Actually, as our current lowest rated imperial stout, I’m going to say exactly that.  Opa Opa Coconut and Hazelnut Imperial Stout (Bourbon Barrel Aged) is all bad.

Perhaps in addition to the small font size, Opa Opa might consider adding an asterisk to their labeling.  At least that way consumers will be properly warned about the contents within.

(Appearance 8.2, Smell 4.2, Mouthfeel 2, Taste 11.4, Aftertaste 9, Drinkability 10.6)

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Sierra Nevada Barrel-Aged Narwhal

rating_excellent89 points

In full disclosure, here at The Basement Beer Tastings we’ve recently discovered a bit of a  personal bias.  Okay…you caught us.  When pressed under the intense fluorescent light of the basement, that would be biases.

First, it appears that many a panelist can be too easily swayed by the dark side.  Woh, woh, woh, slow down there Kylo Ren…we’re talking about the temptation offered by a dark (and thick bodied) stout.  No one here will be joining The First Order any time soon.

sierranevadanarwhalbarrelagedSecond, apparently we’re all suckers for barrel aging.  Yes, yes, we know.  Barrel aging may be the latest brewing fad worth discussing.  But, we’ve found some pretty amazing brews due to our penchant for barrel aging.

What’s that you say?  Errr…  Indeed you’ve caught us again.  We’ve certainly found a stinker or two.  In our defense, the Shock Top was bequeathed to us and not actually sought after.  And the Two Roads? Well, that’s all on Rick.

By now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Where’s he going with this? ” Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal…that’s where!

To use one of panelist Jon’s favorite sayings, “Let that soak in for a moment.”  (Much like the barrel aging soaked into the beer. See what I did there?)

For those unfamiliar with Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal, it’s their annually released imperial stout.  But even more elusive than that yearly offering is the limited run Barrel Aged Narwhal — aptly named, since narwhals are known as the “unicorns of the sea.”

And what’s harder to find than a unicorn?  Possibly one that’s been barrel aged.

I’ll stop here to mention how the panel had pretty high hopes for this barrel aged beauty.  Considering none had experienced the standard Narwhal, the expectations were rather unfounded.  Besides from the fact that we had so greatly enjoyed Sierra Nevada’s Barrel Aged Bigfoot, there was really no rhyme or reason to the amount of hype surrounding the beer.

Honestly, it probably had to do with the length of time it took us to procure a bottle.  With each passing trip to the liquor store, the legend of the elusive Narwhal grew.

Thankfully, Narwhal did not disappoint.  As a matter of fact, many of the panelists felt it had surpassed their already inflated expectations.

Not too much time needs to be spent on appearance.  Guess what, it’s black.  And it looked beautiful, standing out in particular was it’s smooth, syrupiness while poured.  There were traces of red in the head, but most of the panel were transfixed by the complete darkness filling each glass.

Right away the scent of bourbon found the panel.  Traces of marshmallow, coconut, chocolate and vanilla were also noted.  It seemed as though the long wait was going to pay off.

So, here we are at taste.  Using the panelists’ own words, taste was described as “delicious buttery bourbon, vanilla imperial stout” and “smooth, creamy bourbon.”

Mouthfeel was deemed highly viscous, noted as both buttery and syrupy.

Aftertaste provided a slight burn. Welcome to the party, bourbon.  Vanilla and smoke were two flavors noted to linger.  In the case of Narwhal, it seemed the aftertaste augmented the beer’s favorability.

Every panelist could see themselves easily drinking Barrel Aged Narwhal.  Popular sentiment was that it needed to be savored and enjoyed slowly.  Panelists pictured themselves enjoying a relaxing evening with this smooth sipper of a brew — most likely on a cold night, sitting in front of an impressive fire.

Overall, despite elevating this stout to almost unattainable levels, it certainly proved to be a truly excellent beer.

So now, it’s time for you to develop your own myth about the great Barrel Aged Narwhal.  And if you happen to stumble across this unicorn of a beer, without hesitation, buy it.  You’ll surely be glad you did because, honestly, how often can one say they’ve caught a unicorn?  And, a barrel aged one to boot.

(Appearance 9.43, Smell 9.29, Taste 26.43, Aftertaste 18., Drinkability 25.57) 

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Allagash Curieux

rating_excellent87 points

We’d bet that for most, a “guilty pleasure” beer would be one you are somewhat ashamed to admit enjoying.

And then there’s our panelist Rick, who took “guilty pleasure” to mean one so expensive, you pay for it with cash so your wife doesn’t find out how much you spent on a single beer.  (Good thing Karen doesn’t visit this site much.)

Guilty pleasure?! Okay, we’ll allow it.

allgashcurieuxRick’s pick was Allagash Curieux, a beer that is made from their delicious Tripel Ale being aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels.

We’ll just give that a moment to soak in…like how the bourbon essence soaked into the beer.

Questions raced through our minds before tasting.  Would the excellently rated original be made even better with the introduction of bourbon?   Or, would some of the delectableness be lost due to an overly strong alcohol flavor?

We didn’t know, but boy, oh boy, were we anxious to find out.

Curieux’s appearance received a respectable score of 8 with panelists noting a hazy golden, orange color.

Smell rated highly with the panel finding buttery bourbon, smoke, vanilla and a hint of “Belgian funk.”  So far, Curieux was scoring higher than its parentage, and to end the suspense here, that trend would continue the rest of the way.

This ale had a taste that highly impressed.  Yes, the flavor of the original ale was detectable, but even more apparent was the buttery bourbon that was hinted at in the smell.

The bourbon also carried over right into the aftertaste — and with it, a warming sensation that the panelists enjoyed as they drank.

The one flaw found in Curieux was its mouthfeel.  The carbonation was deemed a bit too fizzy by many on the panel.  Still, that wasn’t enough to keep it from receiving an overall Excellent rating.

It was agreed this was an ale to savor, a slow sipper that will surely satisfy the drinker.  Though be warned, if bought in a bottle, Curieux is also best shared with a friend.

At 11% ABV, the word heavy came up in most panelists’ notes.  And while drinkability received quality ratings due to the beer’s deliciousness lasting through the whole glass, the heaviness of the bourbon will most likely keep you from enjoying a whole bottle on your own.

Whether you find Curieux in a bottle or are lucky enough to find it on tap (as panelist Jon did shortly after the tasting), we recommend immediate purchase.  And if you’re at all like Rick, we also recommend paying cash.

(Appearance 8., Smell 9.25, Taste 26.5, Aftertaste 17., Drinkability 26.5)

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Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale (Barrel Aged)

rating_excellent87 points

Folklore suggests that Bigfoot is a huge brown beast, elusively  roaming the landscape in long, confident strides, arrogantly taunting you to chase him.

Barrel Aged Bigfoot Ale is very much the same, only get your hands on this beast and you’ll be treated to a sweet reward.

bigfootSierra Nevada ages this limited edition of its Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale in whiskey barrels, and with a large silkscreened 1 pint, 9.4 ounce bottle adorned with a champagne cork, it’s obvious that the aging went very, very well.

Upon uncaging this beast, the panel immediately appreciated its hazy deep reddish-amber color similar to fresh-pressed apple cider.

However, unlike cider, this brew’s aroma delivered scents of bourbon, vanilla, maple and light hops. A slight antiseptic smell was also detected — likely due to its 11.5% ABV content — but was not a detractor.

Upon taste, Bigfoot wowed the panel with its four distinct flavor characters.  As it hit the tongue, the palate is enveloped with sweet maltiness. The panel noted that this sweetness immediately developed into grassy, vegetal-but-pleasant character that one panelist likened to autumn leaves.

A few seconds later, a third taste character developed — a strong, smooth flavor of oak and bourbon. The beer then culminates in its fourth character…an aftertaste of smoky hops.

Barrel Aged Bigfoot was rated excellent on drinkability, because while the beer makes no apologies for its complexity, each sip begs you to chase Bigfoot a little farther.

(Appearance 8.5, Smell 8.5, Taste 26.25, Aftertaste 17.75, Drinkability 26)

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