How do you view beer? Is it something which augments a dinner or social engagement? Is it something you love in its own right? Your answer to that question may impact how you like some of the ultra-big and -heavy beers that exist on the fringes of the Virginia beer scene. If you enjoy beer just to enjoy beer, the layered complexity and boldness of something that took a year (or more) just to make it to your glass may be lost entirely. I’m always reminded of this when we have some (non-craft beer type) friends over, and I’m gushing over something I’ve pulled out of the cellar but nobody feels brave enough to try it. Maybe someone does, but as often as I get a complimentary “wow!” I get the dreaded BITTER BEER FACE! The beer I want to talk about today straddles that line. It’s bold and flavorful, but could easily be offputting to a lot of people. My wife who likes this style made a face to it, but my neighbor who doesn’t kept asking for another splash. Just remember – it’s beer. It’s meant to be enjoyed!
Bourbon Barrel Baltic Sunrise, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Richmond, VA)
Imperial Baltic Porter, 10.4% ABV, 33 IBU
Presentation: Bomber pour into snifter.
Appearance: Jet black with a small oily patch which, along with a short-lived but effervescent head, grades cream to tan.
Taste: The aromas range from chicory to cayenne to cacao. They may not all be in there, but they are my Yanny to your Laurel. Once you take that first sip, a dash of fleeting fruit is quickly dispatched by heavier peat notes. Hardywood calls the fruit cherry, but that may depend on if the dress is blue or white to you. The finish is all Sumatran coffee, dark roasted and potent but not as bitter as, say, a French or Italian roast. Some very late vanilla bean rounds things out. We shared a bottle of this with other beer writers from all across the country in August at the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference, and if you expected a cloud of smug snobbery to choke everyone into a coma, you’d have been wrong. The most enlightening tasting comment Hamilton got was, “why didn’t you share this at breakfast?”
Mouth Feel: Surprisingly lively but mostly plays off your bitter receptors, especially during the finish.
Overall: This one surprised me, but maybe that has to do with what you expect out of a big beer like this. I saw “bourbon” and was expecting some palate crusher, but the coffee and other flavors were excellent. Because of that, you could age it 6-12 months like it seems to call for, or you could enjoy the heck out of it now because you don’t view beers (or wine, scotch, etc.) as something that requires delicate cellaring to be any good. This could have been better had I brought it out later, but it was pretty good as is. I do suggest you drink it fairly cold, but give the bottle 10 minutes or so outside the fridge. Do beer the way you do beer, and avoid that dreaded bitter beer face…