Boughs of Barley is Back!
We all know someone who’s waaaaaay too prepared for Christmas. They start their shopping in May, invites to their Holiday Potluck go out in August, decorations for the house are down from the attic sometime in September, and Josh Groban’s Christmas CD is playing in their car the minute the temperature drops below 75. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, they’re checking out Black Friday sales for stocking stuffers.
We certainly admire their verve and moxie, but their planning seems last-minute compared to the guys in the brewhouse.
Our guys started planning for Christmas 2017 sometime in September of 2016. It was then that the guys started brewing a Belgian-style Dark Ale with malt from our good friends at Rabbit Hill as well as a touch of Belgian candi syrup and orange peel, perfect for taking up residence in some old cognac and bourbon barrels.
“This beer was brewed very much with the barrel-aging in mind,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “We wanted a beer that was going to really match the flavors picked up from the barrels.”
At risk of sounding trite, the result is… complex. So complex that describing this brew gets a little wonky. The flavors at play were chosen deliberately to complement each other, and we’re dealing with a remarkable number of flavors in this brew, even for a barrel-aged beer.
The base is in a “Trappist” style, but we don’t use that word, giving deference to the eleven Trappist monasteries on the planet that brew this style of beer. Instead, we call it an “Abbey-style” brew, though both are characterized by an intricate malt bill, warm fermentation temperatures, and a secondary fermentable sugar — in our case, dark Belgian candi syrup.
The dark Belgian candi syrup imparts flavors of plums, grapes, some toffee, and a smidgen of dark, almost burnt, caramel. This is balanced in the base brew by a helping of orange peel, bringing a holiday harmony to this brew in a way that your family dinners may not.
These already delicious flavors are married even further with our French Saison yeast strain.
“This imparts really lovely notes of apricots, cloves, and a slight flowery-ness, as well as a super-dry mouthfeel,” Jimmy says. “Just lovely.”
That sounds like an exquisite brew on its own, but it was deliberately brewed to lay down in a few cognac and bourbon barrels for a year or so. These barrels arrived sometime in 2016, and we couldn’t make up our minds as to which ones to use for this brew… so why not both?
“One version of a beer is great,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “but you know what’s even better? Two versions!”
So, you don’t only have one chance to try this unbelievable holiday brew, but you’ve got two different versions to spice up your holiday cheer. Maybe add a little comparative tasting to your holiday schedule.
“Using two types of barrels really showcases the barrel-aging process in its own right,” Jimmy says. “This way, people can buy the same beer, aged in different ways, and see how that affected the flavor. It makes for a fun tasting session, especially if the beers are at almost 11% ABV!”
The difference between the two beers is quite noticeable. Brian was curious and didn’t really know what to expect until both beers were well underway in their barrel-aging lifecycle.
“I figured — and hoped! — there would be a noticeable difference between the two,” he says, “and much to my enjoyment they’re really rather different!”
Both have sweeter characteristics, but the cognac has a velvety smoothness on the mouthfeel. The bourbon variant has more vanilla and toffee, while the cognac brings more prunes and a sherry-like quality.
“They both also get a nice woodsiness,” Jimmy says, “but since Bourbon barrels are charred, they tend to have a bit of a charcoal-like woodsiness; the Cognac barrels, on the other hand, have uncharred staves, so the woodsiness there is more crisp and like fresh cut wood. The Cognac-aged variant is also smoother while the Bourbon-aged one has a bit of that alcohol heat to it.”
Aging a brew in cognac barrels has long been a dream of Jimmy’s.
“Bourbon barrels are done so often — which makes sense, there’s a lot of them around in the US — and I’ve always wanted to experiment with other kinds of spirits,” he says “Cognac was always at the top, but also Mezcal and Tequila, Scotch Whisky, Port and Sherry, Mead, Rum, all sorts. So this is the start, and we know we have more varieties coming down for 2018 that I’m even more excited about!”
Brian is looking forward to seeing some snow this year, and can’t wait to curl up with some Boughs of Barley while the snow falls.
“I can’t think of anything better than getting snowed in and cooking up a nice hearty stew and sipping on these while it simmers away for hours,” he says.
Jimmy will be bringing a few growlers back to Seattle to share with family over the holiday season.
“I fully intend to sit by the roaring fire sipping on some at 10:00 in the morning while my nieces and nephews go bat-shit crazy opening presents,” he says, “happy in the fact that I’m only an uncle.”
Brian says, “I’m fairly certain a fireplace and obscure French 60s pop playlist would pair swimmingly with these bad boys.”
However you plan to enjoy your holiday season, be sure to include Boughs of Barley in your plans. Both varieties will be available on tap in the Brewtique on Thanksgiving Eve.
See you there!