Back in the winter of 2012/13, I reviewed quite a few beers as part of what I called “The Winter of Beer”. And of all those that I sampled, Howe Sound’s Woolly Bugger Barley Wine was the best, and not just in terms of barley wines. In terms of color, aroma, taste, and finish, it was the best beer of the season, beating out Phillips, Hoyne, Rogue, Driftwood, and even such historic ales that I happened to find during this time (like La Rochefort Trappist 8, 10 and Orval).
So this season, I thought I’d revisit the Wooly Bugger since Howe Sound has chosen to release a new vintage. As you can see from the image, the label is somewhat different from what the last two annual releases sported. And for the most part, the beer has been consistently good as far as its taste was concerned, ranking as one of the season’s best winter ales. However, there were some difference that brought it down in my estimation, if only slightly.
For instance, the beer boasted a bigger, lacier head this year, whereas 2012’s was pretty subdued in terms of foam and carbonation. This year’s release was also discernibly more malt-forward, with little hop aroma or flavor that I could discern. It’s nose consisting heavily of fruity, sugary notes without the hint of citrus I noticed before, and this carried through in the taste which was dominated by sugars, coarse malt and alcohol, with a only hint of hop bitterness at the end.
Appearance: Amber-brown, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong, sugary malts, dates, raisins, and dark fruits
Taste: Molasses and brown sugar, giving way to coarse malt and bitter hop finish
Aftertaste: Lingering alcoholic bitterness and coarse malt
In short, and with brutal honesty, this year’s Woolly Bugger was not as balanced as last year’s. However, it still scores a 9 out of 10 in my books for its delicious malty flavor, supple, sweet nose, chewy mouth feel and winter-warming character.