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“It’s definitely a beer that’s meant to be shared with close friends and family.”

Boughs of Barley 2019 with the Brew Crew

Can you feel it? Can you feel that the holidays are getting close? There’s an electricity in the air: everyone has a smile on their face and a warmth of heart that can only mean that we’re entering the holiday season.

It’s the time to get together with friends and family both near and far, no matter how time and circumstance have flung you apart. There’s nothing better for the holidays than gathering with the people you love around a warm fire, rehashing old memories and making plans for the future.

And there’s only one beer — or two! — you’ll want for just such an occasion: Boughs of Barley 2019.

In the spirit of togetherness, we sat down with a few of the guys in production, popped open a few bottles of Boughs of Barley 2019 — both the port and bourbon variants –, and recorded their reactions for posterity.

Gathered in the small conference room at headquarters were Innovation Director Brian Hink, Quality Assurance Manager James Fox, Packaging Leads Sean McGuirl and Steve DiMartino, Lab Technician Matt Allen, and the staff of Straight to the Pint.

We attempted to set the scene with the addition of some holiday music, but trying to get more than two brewery employees to agree on music is a herculean task matched only by the task at hand: Social Media and Design Alchemist Courtney Rosenberg attempted to play some Kenny G Christmas music, but Brian quickly overruled it with some Budos Band — not exactly Christmassy, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Once we were assembled, Matt cracked open a bottle of the port variant. We wanted to walk them through the stages of experiencing the beer — first through the visuals, then the aromas, then the flavors — but one or two of them may have jumped the gun.

We don’t blame them.

“Matt does a great pour,” Sean said. 

“It’s dark,” Brian said, “which is a step in the right direction, being a porter. It’s opaque. Even holding it up to the light, you can’t see through there.”

“It’s a black hole,” Steve agreed. “It’s absent of light.”

“Just like life,” Sean said, joking. (We hope.)

“It’s darker than the abyss,” Steve said.

“The aroma’s got a nice vinous character,” Brian said. “You get a lot of the barrel character off of it.”

“Plenty of tannins,” Matt said.

“Some fortified wine notes,” Brian said.

“Some tartness,” James said.

“I get a tiny bit of funkiness on the aroma from the barrels,” Matt said. “Are we allowed to drink it now?”

“That’s what I was looking forward to,” James said.

We decided to let them give it a taste. The room was quiet for a moment as everyone savored the beer.

“That’s nice,” James said, finishing his sip. “We’re quiet because we’re enjoying this.”

We pointed out that silence does not make for a good blog.

“It could!” he said, laughing. “‘We were going to write this blog but the beer was too good to write about it.’”

“‘The guys were so happy with it that they just couldn’t talk,’” Brian joked.

“Just hold down M on the keyboard,” Sean said. “Mmmmmmm….”

“It has some pretty clear wine character to it,” Steve said, thankfully bringing us back to the reason we’d convened.

We’d wondered aloud if anyone had tried port wine prior to tasting this brew. A few of them had, but Matt admitted to “not being much of a wine drinker.”

“It’s more of a dessert wine,” Steve said.

“It’s sweeter,” Brian agreed. “As they get older, they get much sweeter. Almost balsamic-y notes in the background. This is definitely a younger barrel.”

“They’re very robust,” Steve said.

“The port barrels give it a little fruity tartness with some funk in there,” James said. “It rounds out the finish. The tartness makes me want to drink more of it.”

“Mm-hm,” Steve said in agreement.

“It makes me want to sit back and enjoy a little bit,” Matt said. “It’s a nice, relaxing beer. It’s not something you could chug, obviously.”

“Noooo,” Steve agreed.

“It makes me glad I haven’t died yet,” Brian said. 

“I think this beer would bring me back to life,” Steve agreed.

“It’s chocolate-y and raisiny,” Sean said.

“Yeah, I get a little raisin quality,” Brian said.

“It kinda goes through the gamut of flavors,” James said. “It’s a little sweet and creamy on the front, then finishes a little tart and dry on the back end. You get that chocolate and fruit. It’s a big range, but it all melds together well.”

“It’s a 10.5%,” Brian said, “but it doesn’t really drink like that at all. It’s very smooth. It’s a lager, so it has a nice, natural, clean, smooth finish. Then the barrel-aging amplifies that.”

“It’s definitely a beer that’s meant to be shared with close friends and family,” Matt said. “Or coworkers.”

“I don’t want to share that,” James joked. “I want a bottle to myself, to slowly sip on through the night.”

“It’s great to enjoy with family and friends during the holidays,” Sean said, “but, if you have none, you can still enjoy it by yourself.”

“It’s the perfect beer to sit and contemplate the meaningless of life, and how we’re all going to die soon on this little rock screaming through space,” said Brian, whom we’re sure has been reading Sartre as of late.

“Is there something other than alcohol in this beer?” Matt wondered.

“Brian is transcending space and time,” Steve said.

“It’s a beer to share with your family — or not — and make them more enjoyable,” James said.

We decided to move on to the bourbon variant. In the interest of saving the environment, we cleaned out the remnants of the port variant from our single-use plastic cups and reused them for the bourbon variant. 

Considering that it was the same base beer, it was a little surprising that the consensus was that the bourbon variant is darker than the port variant.

“I think it’s a little darker,” Steve said.

“The head is darker on it, too,” James said. “That’s a little weird.”

We assumed that the bourbon variant would be slightly darker than the port, simply because bourbon is darker than port.

“Yeah, but there’s such little bourbon in there,” Matt pointed out. “You wouldn’t really expect it to contribute much to the color.”

Brian thought that the port had a more “refined” aroma.

“The bourbon — and I say this as lovingly as possible — but it has a more ‘generic’, bourbon-barrel-aged beer aroma,” he said. “It’s a very known aroma. We had Bourbon Barrel Aged Concrete Ship recently. It’s going to have a similar aroma to it.”

“Boozy,” Steve suggested.

“Versus the port…,” Brian continued. “When’s the last time anyone had a port wine, in general, much less a port-barrel-aged beer? So, I think it’s more distinctive, the aroma on the port, definitely.”

“I get sweet molasses on the nose,” Sean said, to some agreement from the room.

“It’s a little marshmallowy,” Brian said.

“I was just about to say the same thing,” James agreed. “Marshmallow.”

“Yeah, because of the vanillans that you get off the bourbon,” Brian said, “those natural vanillans. The char. It kind of contributes to that burnt-marshmallow quality.”

We allowed these obviously parched young men to give the bourbon variant its first sip.

“It’s got a kind of char-y aftertaste,” Steve said. “A good, bourbon char.”

“There’s a dark chocolate and coffee mix in there,” James added. 

“Dark chocolate,” Steve agreed. “Yeah. I get a lot of chocolate.”

“It’s got a nice, calming heat,” Matt said. “You can feel a bit of an alcohol burn, but it’s not overwhelming.”

“It’s calming,” Sean agreed.

“It warms you, but it doesn’t burn you,” James said.

“There’s an upfront warming,” Steve agreed.

“Warming by the fire, not in the fire,” Sean suggested to laughter.

“There’s a little maple flavor in here, too,” James said, with agreement from Sean.

“It’s insanely smooth,” Matt said.

“Yeah, it’s definitely smooth,” Brian agreed. “The barrel aging definitely helped that. Now, everything continues to round out.” 

“It’s sweet upfront like the port,” Sean said, “but it finishes pretty dry.”

“I think the final gravity on these were, like, ten,” Matt said. “Eight to ten.”

“That’s pretty low,” Sean said. 

“Yeah,” Matt agreed. “So they’re drier than most of our beers.”

“But it’s very soft,” Brian said. “Despite being drier, there’s a softness to it. There’s a well-rounded softness.”

“Velvety,” Sean agreed.

“This beer was also awesome before it went into the barrels,” Matt said. “It’s a nice beer: cold-crashed for a few weeks, a nice lagering time. So it was clean before it even went into the barrels.”

It was generally agreed that these are both great beers, but we were glad to hear that a lot of the guys thought that they were some of our best Boughs of Barley offerings to date.

When we originally conceived Boughs of Barley back in 2016, the concept was to allow the barrel to be the variant: instead of adding a number of adjuncts to the beer as we do with a One-Off Wednesday or the like, that we’d allow the barrels to do that for us, creating two variants of the same base beer by allowing the barrel to act as an ingredient.

“This year, the barrels are very complementary to each other,” Brian said. “This might be the most well-executed we’ve done, of allowing the barrel to be the built-in variant.”

“The best thing about these is that they add a barrel character to an already-delicious beer without overpowering it,” James said. “You’ll drink some beers and it’ll just be straight barrel; you can’t even tell what the beer tastes like. But these balance out well.”

“Yeah,” Sean agreed. “They’re very complementary.”

“And these won’t change too much if you cellar them,” Matt said. “They’re not going to change like a sour beer would. They’re not going to get more funky. Because they’re bottle-conditioned, they’ll stay good for a long time, but it’s not like The Skeg or something which tastes different now than it did a year ago or a year before that.”

“The flavors will evolve a little bit,” James suggests, “but, being that it’s a lager and a lot of the flavors are a little soft in the first place, I don’t think that it’s going to change much.”

“You will get more oxidation reactions going on downstream,” Brian says. “That will lead to more mouthfeel, you could get more of that….”

“The raisins?” Matt asks.

“Yeah, the raisins,” Brian agreed. “It could get more molasses-y. It could start pushing those characteristics to the forefront. It will evolve and it will change. But, will it get better with age? Personally, I don’t think so. Then again, I’ve also stopped intentionally cellaring stuff.”

Regardless, there’s nothing stopping you from aging this beer. You’ll see some minor changes, as Brian says, but there’s no reason not to age it.

This year, Boughs of Barley will only be available through the Tasting Room. We’ll have a limited amount available on tap for tastings, but both the port and bourbon variants will be available in the Brewtique, $17.99 per 750ml bottle, plus tax.

Don’t miss out!