It seems everybody is doing a barrel-aged winter ale these days! Everywhere I’ve looked in recent months, I’ve found barley wines, winter ales, or other varieties of seasonal dark ales that brewers thought could use an infusion of whiskey! Bottled, and then released for the 2012/13 season, these beers have pretty much set the trend this year in the South Island region.
Not sure why, just seems to be the thing. And for me, it began with Phillips Trainwreck Barley Wine, which differed from last years release of the beer of the same name in that this year, they had decided to age it in bourbon barrels and send it out. Shortly thereafter, I discovered Driftwood had done much the same, putting their Old Cellar Dweller barley wine in whiskey barrels and releasing it as Old Barrel Dweller. Then came Parallel 49’s Imperial Stout, a winter beer that was also aged in a bourbon barrel. Somehow, it seemed no one was immune!
In any case, I thought it was time I get back on the whiskey barrel-aged train and spotted this number: Phillips Twisted Oak Scotch Ale. According to the brewery, this beer is the “flagship” beer in their Twisted Oak Stillage series, meaning that the first in a lineup of beers which will be aged in Oak barrels once used for making whiskey. And as a Scotch Ale, it is both appropriately paired with a whiskey aging process, and experimental in that they used Bourbon instead of Scotch barrels.
And I was largely pleased, though I am still on the fence about the whole whiskey infusion process. While it was certainly a more appropriate pairing than their Trainwreck barley wine, it still smacked of the same dominating character, where the whiskey overpowers the beer in terms of taste and smell. In the description, oak and vanilla are mentioned as part of the palate, but I detected hints of neither. Whiskey is all that I could taste, aside from a noticeable cream ale base which comes through immediately in the taste. But that quickly gives way to bourbon which not only dominates the smell, but is all one can taste before long.
Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention
Nose: Predominant whiskey nose, peaty and strong
Taste: Mild malts, reminiscent of cream ale, big hit of bourbon whiskey, smoky and sharp
Aftertaste: Lingering bourbon and peat flavor
Overall: 7.75 /10
Although an appropriate and decent beer, it felt hard to appreciate it fully because its profile was so dominated by its strong bourbon character. It would be nice if that were offset or balanced more by the spices which are advertised, such as vanilla or possibly some anise. But this really doesn’t happen and one is left feeling as if they are sipping whiskey, though with a significantly better aftertaste!
And this is hardly the first time Phillips has gone down the barrel aging road. I can recall with some lack of mirth, their Double Barrel Scotch Ale from a few years back. That was also an experiment which I felt was ill-advised and won’t get into here (Wine and whiskey? What were they thinking?) So while this trend is certainly interesting and somewhat appealing, I do wonder what inspired it and when it will be making an exit from the BC beer scene. I also wonder if Phillips simply got a deal on bourbon barrels and that’s why they’re doing so much with it of late!