Barley Mowat 

Great Barrel Experiment: Beer Two Review

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Next up: Bourbon barrel-aged Howe Sound Pothole Filler. First, the specs:

Source Beer: Howe Sound Pothole Filler Imperial Stout (2 Litres)
Barrel: 2 Litre Bourbon-infused American Oak
Age: 3 weeks in barrel; 4 weeks in bottle
Adjuncts: Vanilla seeds
Carbonation: Brettanomyces in-barrel, then Dextrose/Champagne intro’d in-barrel, then in-bottle at capping

Damn if that doesn’t at least sound tasty. I mean, who doesn’t like a complex imperial stout. The burn of the bourbon should balance the sweetness of the vanilla, and the original chocolate tones should bind it all together. At least, that’s the theory. And we all know how theories usually wind up.

Legislated out of existence by US governments, that’s how.

Of course, reality has that nasty habit of not giving a shit about what you want to happen, and that explains my beer. The problem I had from day one with this barrel was in keeping the fermentation going. The imperial stout’s high alcohol and low specific gravity meant that the brettanomyces I threw into it had a very hard time getting going. The goal here was to dry out the beer a bit and add a slight belgian funk tone. While this might seem odd at first glance, it’s exactly the formula of one of the best stouts I’ve ever had (a one-off at Upright Brewing).

The brettanomyces, though, were rather put out at not being given tasty, easy-to-digest fruit to consume (such as was happening one barrel to the left), so they protested in about the only way they could: they up and died. With no active fermentation to keep pressure inside the barrel up, the risk of oxygen intruding and oxidizing the beer became real. So I whipped up some champagne yeast with dextrose, and tried that, which promptly died as well. Repeat this process a few more times, and finally one batch stuck and a slight positive pressure was keeping O2 at bay.

So what did I wind up with? The resultant beer was slightly less carbonated than the store-bought variety, but had an intriguing vanilla tone throughout. At the end of each sip, the bourbon would give you a little mellow burn and make you want more. There was also something else lingering on the edges of my tongue. Something… unpleasant… even… cardboardy. Damnit. Oxidization had crept in after all.

Again, I had the brilliant idea of blending this with my saved bottle of Pothole Filler, and this saved it. Not only did the blend take the edge of the oxidization, but a mix of about 75% barrel-aged, 25% shelf Pothole Filler was a vast, vast improvement over the original. Howe Sound makes a fine product, but ultimately I wouldn’t consider Pothole Filler to be cellar worthy. My concoction, though, is definitely that.

In the end, this is a recipe I’d want to tinker with and improve, but it definitely squeaks onto the list of “will do again.”

Last, but not least, is my Driftwood White Bark + “everything I could find” concoction. I should probably get to it sometime this week; as I was pulling the Pothole Filler out of the closet, I heard it laughing at me from the dark corner. This seems like the sort of situation one needs to address sooner rather than later.

Written by chuck

July 15th, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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