Of all the alcoholic beverages in the world, beer features the widest range of flavors. Water, yeast, hops, malts: four main ingredients each with varying styles (an Amarillo hop is wildly different from a Sorachi Ace hop, a German Pilsner yeast is far, far removed from a strain of brettanomyces…etc.), each used in varying quantities, each coming in to play at varying times in the brew process, all coming together to create the spectrum of beer. From porter to Dortmunder, from American IPA to Belgian dubbel, there’s a flavor profile for every drinker.
And that’s just the four Reinheitsgebot-approved ingredients! Beer branches off into even more unique incarnations through the use of adjuncts such as fruit, wheat, spices, coffee, and chocolate. What’s more, once the beer’s been made, it can be further altered through barrel-aging. Many times, the barrels in which the beer ages were used for different types of alcohol—a wine or a spirit, typically. Thus, the wine or spirit imparts its own characteristics on the beer further diversifying said beer. Barrel-aging isn’t backwards compatible, though. A pinot noir aged in an Oud Bruin barrel? A Bourbon aged in a Russian imperial stout barrel? It would be a rare occurrence if, indeed, it’s ever happened at all. Beer can take on the flavors of wine and spirits but wine and spirits do not take on the flavors of beer; if for no other reason, this puts beer ahead of all other alcohols in terms of range of flavor.
Boulder’s Upslope Brewing Company knows the power of the barrel and is showcasing its beer-transforming abilities via the new Lee Hill Series, a line-up of experimental ales and lagers named for the brewery’s original North Boulder location. The first in this series of creative suds is Barrel Aged Brown Ale (7.6% ABV), Upslope’s flagship Brown Ale aged four months in Leopold Bros. Maryland Rye Whiskey barrels.
Color: Russet and opaque, Barrel Aged Brown displays a core of deep brown with edges of mahogany. It sports a light tan head.
Aroma: Barrel Aged Brown starts out with an aroma of rich milk chocolate or coffee-with-cream. Spicy rye undertones make an appearance but such a scent is not obvious, it must be hunted out. Encompassing the entire nose is a blanket of vanilla.
Taste: There are three distinct flavor stages to Barrel Aged Brown. Immediately, one tastes the base beer, the Brown Ale. It’s resplendent with smooth chocolate and toffee. Next, it fades into the dark fruit stage and one begins to notice notes of plum and raisin. It’s only in the final stage that the whiskey begins to shine through but, when it does show up, the liquor flavor loiters on the tongue well after the beer’s been swallowed.
Mouthfeel: 7.6% ABV isn’t excessively boozy but, paired with the placebo effect imparted by the whiskey flavor, Barrel Aged Brown leaves the drinker with a slight burn of alcohol. Barrel Aged Brown is also fairly high on the viscosity charts and leaves the mouth slick and wet.
Care to try this first of the Lee Hill Series? 19.2 oz cans are available for purchase at Upslope’s original Lee Hill facility. While Barrel Aged Brown isn’t the most convenient can to find, this complex and malty brew is well worth the effort.