This past Saturday (November 13, 2010) I attended The Bistro’s 5th Annual West Coast Barrel Aged Beer Festival in Hayward, CA. I’m a regular at The Bistro’s Festivals (you can browse past reports and beer lists here). This particular lineup was the possibly the greatest I’ve seen at any festival. Downright epic.
The two-sided tasting sheets (reproduced below – click to see full-size images) listed 61 beers. “Barrel Aged” is of course not a beer style in itself – you can put any beer into a barrel – so the variety at this festival is larger than at style-specific events like the IPA Festival. This also means there’s not a professional judging, just a People’s Choice Award voted by attendees. Most beers tend to be heavier stouts, with the occasional Belgian-style wild beers showing up and some crazy one-offs here and there.
(As of this writing, has not seemed to be announced.) [Update: folks on the Beer Advocate message board say that the winner was Lagunitas' Bourbon Barrel Cappuccino Stout.]
[Update: The Bistro's web site lists the People's Choice winner as Drake's Wild Stallyns. Runners-up, in order of votes received: Lagunitas Bourbon Cappuccino Stout, Avery Rumpkin, Glacier Big Woody, Bear Republic Nectarine Grizz, Fifty Fifty Imperial Eclipse Stout, and Sierra Nevada Barrel Life & Limb.]
This year I tried twenty of the beers. I’m worried that my palate can’t be trusted with that many, but I did rate (on a 10 point scale) and take notes on each, so I’m going to post each brief review here in alphabetical order by brewery. Almost every beer was good – only two didn’t pass muster, which indicates a pretty amazingly consistent level of quality. We live in the best time for beer the world has ever seen.
- Avery Rumpkin (8.5-): A heavy pumpkin beer done mostly right. “Yum, sweet, not syrupy to start.” Not overwhelming with weird additives, but still “lots of spice, nutmeg?” “Maybe too much alcohol?” No head, clear medium red/brown. Doesn’t linger, maybe a little boozy, very drying on the end. One of the day’s most interesting beers.
- Bear Republic Barrel Aged Ryevalry (7.5): “Yummy, fruity, yeasty, rye.” I love Bear Republic, and I love rye beers, but haven’t cottoned to the regular Ryevalry. The barrel aged version, well made as it is, doesn’t quite catch my fancy, either.
- Drake’s Brett Butler (8.0+): “Russian River-esque”. A light, tart, lean beer. Love the Brett in this one. Finishes a little weak, then some burn in the chest. But really 9.0%?
- Drake’s Volte-Face (7.5+): “Sour, but not too dry or puckering.” “Maybe a little flabbier than Russian River’s style.”
- Drake’s The Creator Has a Mastertape (9.0): One of the best of the day. Ugly, murky appearance, but otherwise the perfect porter style. Has that fizzy edge and powderiness, tastes like a heavier, higher-alcohol beer than it is.
- Fifty Fifty Imperial Eclipse Stout – 2010 Four Roses Bourbon Barrel (8.5): Fifty Fifty has nailed the barrel-aged imperial stout. They have a great base beer that they perfectly age in beautiful American whiskey barrels. Four Roses is my favorite bourbon, but this beer wasn’t quite my favorite barrel-aged stout at Festival this day or from Fifty Fifty ever. A little thinner feeling than its companion beer (see below). Still, a great example of what a beautifully aged beer can take from a great bourbon barrel.
- Fifty Fifty Imperial Eclipse South – 2010 Heaven Hill / Rittenhouse Rye Barrel (9.5): My favorite of the day. A great base beer aged in a barrel formerly holding my favorite rye (see my post here). “Sensational. Chocolate, hints of coffee, some sweet, some dry, some wood. Full of flavor, but not too much of anything.”
- Firestone Walker 14 (9.0): The annual blend from Firestone Walker is quite deservedly a cult favorite. I’ve loved every one since the initial release of X. “Smooth, well-crafted. Maybe a touch too perfectly honed? Such finesse.”
- Firestone Walker Nectar Black Xantus (8.0+): “Coffee, coffee, coffee – yum!” Not acrid or dry coffee, just thick and rich. Maybe a little hot on the throat. Is that what happens with a 12.0% beer?
- Glacier Brewhouse Big Woody Barleywine (8.5+): I love English-style barleywines (not so much the American version), and this is a great example. A tiny bit too much vanilla for my taste, but otherwise superbly made. Yum.
- Lagunitas Bourbon Barrel Cappuccino Stout (8.0+): A great introduction to barrel aged beer in general. Very good, almost great – all of the wood, whiskey, and dryness that barrel aging brings. “Reminds me of Schlafly’s barrel-aged beers.” Is the standard Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout 11.0%, or was this a ramped up base beer?
- Marin 21 Year Old Ale (7.0): One of my favorite breweries, though I think Arne is still dialing in the sour styles. I liked this one, but it’s not “tight” like what Russian River has shown us. The finish feels sort of flabby.
- Moylan’s Ryan Sullivan’s Imperial Stout 2008 (6.0-): Tied for least favorite of the day. I really like the base beer in its native form, but this seemed sour when it wasn’t intended to be. “Shows the perils and unpredictability of barrel aging.”
- Moylan’s Wet Hopsickle 2010 (7.0-): The base beer is inconsistent, but when good, one of my favorite beers ever. In this case I thought, “Hoppy but winey, tannic, doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Simcoe-style burn down the chest.”
- Port Brewing Older Viscosity 2009 (8.0-): Dark beer, looks like a stout. But “smells fruity, winey.” Is that roast in there? “Nice to get some hints of roast, though this isn’t a stout at its heart.”
- Russian River Consecration 09 (9.0+): Consecration is generally in my top five beers ever. Such a masterpiece. The ’09 was dryer than the ’10 (see below), some vinegar-style acid. So yummy. What a slightly tart but still rich barrel aged beer should be.
- Russian River Consecration 10 (9.5-): “So good. Big favorite. Tart but not puckering, so taut.” Obviously a sister to the ’09, but milkier. A great beer.
- Sierra Nevada Life and Limb (8.0-): “Like the Lagunitas – no obvious coffee, but still very typical or well-done barrel aged beers in general.” Hints of coconut in this one.
- Speakeasy Bourbon Barrel Aged Payback Porter (6.0-): I love the base beer, and always sought it out when it was available only on tap as Hunters Point Porter. But this version is a failure. No flavor, only a thin texture of vanilla and stinging alcohol. A shame.
Kudos to Vic Kralj and team at The Bistro for putting on these festivals. The price for this one was $40 for a souvenir glass and ten tasting tickets, with additional tickets $2 each. Pours seemed to range from 2-4 ounces. Not cheap, but absolutely worth the price.
- Report: 2009 Barrel-Aged Beer Festival at The Bistro: Hayward, CA (my writeup of last year’s festival)
- Report: 13th Annual IPA Festival (2010) at the Bistro: Hayward, CA (previous Bistro festival)
- The Bistro Events Page
My blog covers all sorts of unrelated topics. You can find just the posts on beer here.