Barrel-aged beers are nothing new. The technique of aging stouts and porters and Scotch ales in bourbon barrels was so cool for a while it became passe. Everyone did it, soaking their brews in sweet, charred wood to bring out bourbon notes in some of the denser beer styles.
Everyone did it, but conformity to a trend doesn’t mean the beers aren’t good. Hoppin’ Frog Brewery out of Akron, Ohio, makes some of the better barrel-aged beers on the market. The brewery ages its best-known beer, B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Imperial Stout, turning it into one of the top-rated beers in the world. By all means seek it out if you have a chance.
Another excellent barrel offering out of Akron is Hoppin’ Frog’s Barrel-Aged Outta Kilter. It’s an aged version of a Scotch-style red ale, or wee heavy. Scotch ales are some of my favorite beers. Founders Backwoods Bastard, a beer of the same style that is also aged, might just be my favorite beer in the world.
I picked up a bottle of Barrel Aged Outta Kilter at Urban Grape in the South End. It is a wine store, but the beer selection is eclectic and well curated. It’s worth a run-through if you’re looking for rarities. The staff is friendly and helpful.
The beer pours drain-cleaner thick into a tulip glass. An off-white head quickly sinks into the muck. Little bits of sediment float about and kind of stick in suspension. I find it pretty.
There’s a sweet aroma wafting off this brew. Plum and vanilla mingle in the air above the glass. Dark fruit, honey, and bourbon are the central flavors on the first sip. I get brown sugar and sweet pastry. There’s more fruit and less vanilla than in Founders Backwoods Bastard. The brewery says there’s a touch of rye to make the beer crisp, but you’ll have a hard time finding it. Barrel-Aged Outta Kilter weighs in at 8.2 percent alcohol by volume.
This is a heavy beer, but it’s one that’s worth your while. Be glad that barrel-aging hasn’t gone away. Sometimes, it’s better to fit in than to try to be too cool.
Style, sure. But how’s the suds?
There’s a lot of craft beer out there, from relative giants like Lagunitas and Stone to the three-barrel nanobrewery down the street. Widmer Brothers Brewing, from Portland, Ore., falls somewhere in the middle. You can spot their taps in many New England bars. You’ve likely had their American-style Hefeweizen, an unfiltered brew that is the company’s flagship. You’ve heard of Widmer Brothers, but it’s also not the first name that rolls off your tongue.
Widmer’s latest year-round offering is Alchemy Ale, a beer that has a chance to make inroads among casual craft drinkers. My sample of Alchemy Ale came from Widmer’s public relations folks, who pitch me often. It came all the way across the country in a fancy blue box with little vials of hops, grains, and yeast. As dense as I am, I realize Widmer is trying to get me to think about the ingredients that make up the beer, and that they’re particularly proud of the ones they’ve chosen in this case.
I unfurl a scroll to get an information sheet about what I’m about to drink. Alchemy Ale is an American pale ale brewed with Widmer’s proprietary hop blend, described as a “blend of choice hops from the Pacific Northwest.” Pale, Caramel, Munich, and Vienna Extra Special malts are used. The beer weighs in at 40 IBUs and 5.8 percent alcohol by volume.
Alchemy Ale pours a transparent liquid gold. Lots of tiny bubbles float skyward. There’s a faint pine smell and some citrus, but it’s mostly caramel.
The first sip is smooth though not overwhelmingly flavorful. The hops are present each step of the way without making the beer too bitter. I’m reminded a little bit of a less earthy, less hoppy Sierra Nevada and also of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. There’s exceptional balance here, is what I’m trying to get at.
Alchemy Ale won’t blow you away, but it’s a solid option at a good price point.Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globegarydzen.