As the wine world moves away from barrels–few white wine categories are growing faster than “unoaked Chardonnay”–the beer world moves towards it. Craft beer and bourbon are cut from the same cloth in two senses: Before it’s distilled whiskey is essentially a rough beer; and they share a similar ethos that focuses on ingredients, bold flavours, and tradition. Makes sense that when distillers are fielding calls from people looking to buy used bourbon barrels it’s often a brewer on the other end.
The ones Nickel Brook’s Ryan Morrow uses for his Old Kentucky Bastard beer come from the Buffalo Trace facility in Kentucky. As I mentioned in the original piece on Postcity.com, Ryan’s intention is to keep his barrel programme growing at a steady clip.
Bourbon is everywhere these days, including in the barrels that Ryan Morrow, Nickel Brook’s head brewer, uses for some of the entries in his quickly expanding barrel-aged beer catalogue. A notable example is the Old Kentucky Bastard, which sees the popular Bolshevik Bastard Russian Imperial Stout aged for more than a year in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels.
Usually, the beer that goes into barrels is a rather neutral ale (like the one Innis & Gunn features for its Original and some of its other offerings), which lets the oak carry the team. The Bolshevik Bastard is an assertive chocolate-heavy stout, which swims against that current.
It’s no surprise that this imperial stout pours very dark black-brown, capped with a finger’s width of coffee-and-cream coloured foam. The mild nose establishes the theme of dark chocolate paired with a touch of vanilla from the oak.
At first, the flavour is all barrel, with vanilla and a hint of bourbon’s corn sweetness, but then the stout’s flavours of chocolate and roasted malt assert themselves. The high alcohol (10 per cent) turns up the volume on both flavours and carries them to an impressively long finish. That complex, twisted match makes this beer resonate like a decadent piece of chocolate cake with a well-matched sauce.
That said, food pairings won’t come naturally to such an assertive and complex beer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it manages to play well with a creamy and mild Stilton.
The Cuvee, another product of the Nickel Brook barrel-aging programme, is in select LCBOs this month ($10 for a 750 mL bottle, LCBO #321679), but to get the Old Kentucky Bastard in the wax-sealed bottles you’ll have to go to the brewery in Burlington. Closer to home, it’s on tap at the usual suspects for good beer, including barVolo, C’est What, and Bar Hop.