bY Kurt Epps—The PubScout
Winter's the time for big, warming beers in my house, and whenever I see one that I haven't added to my regular winter repertoire, I pick up a sixer and say, "What-the hey!"
So I brought home some Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale (it's supposedly been available for a few years, though I'd never seen it) and popped the top. The label advises: "An auburn-colored brew with a smooth robust taste, full of rich aromas, hints of vanilla and flavorful hops." The description is apt, as the beer delivers on all counts. In fact, the more the beer warms up, the more it delivers to the palate.
On the main front label I read, "Winter Ale Aged on Bourbon Oak Casks and Whole Madagascar Vanilla Beans." I do not doubt the Vanilla Beans , as they were definitely—although not cloyingly—present in a very nice taste experience. Nor did I doubt the Bourbon Oak Casks addendum, as I distinctly tasted the lovely pirouette of Oak and Bourbon as they danced through the finish. In all, a very nice beer, and proof that when Busch brewers want to make a good beer, they can. For this beer is made by Michelob Brewing Co. (AKA AB), and it's very well done. Again, I think it's best warmed a bit, but it will easily find a spot as a winter session beer in my house—especially at $6.99 a six.
But I was bothered a bit by a preposition. "Winter Ale Aged ON Bourbon Oak Casks…"
ON? ON Bourbon Oak Casks? Not IN Bourbon Oak Casks? What's this? Some sort of trick by AB? They're just putting this beer on top of an oak barrel to trick us?
Not really. To learn more about barrel aging, visit Jill Perillo's site. It's essentially a wine site, but the info is good. Another good site for barrel aging of beer is CHOW. From what I can determine, "on" and "in" are used pretty much interchangeably when discussing aging of liquor in barrels. In fact, the whole subject of barrel aging could make a fascinating topic for a term paper requirement. One source even cites a renewed interest in oak barreling as a "Viagra" for many spirits. This column's not going there, but wood and the effects of Viagra have indeed been linked in popular idiom for hundreds of years.
The bottom line here is not the wood, but the beer. This beer is delightful to look at, has a very interesting and complex nose, is as smooth as advertised, delivers a pleasant taste to the palate and is certainly worth a try. There is not much appreciable hop presence though Hallertau and Alsace hops are purported to be in there, and the beer checks in at 6% ABV. No one is suggesting Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale as a replacement for a Belgian trippel. It might not elicit ooh's and aah's from those who see St. Louis as anathema to "real" microbrews, but the fact is this beer is very drinkable and worth its price.
Cheers and Merry Christmas!