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"The difference between the two is striking. This is always my favorite part of doing Boughs of Barley: showcasing the barrel's influence as an ingredient.” 

Boughs of Barley 2020

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: it’s time to deck the halls with Boughs of Barley!

Our annual holiday offering, this year we’ve taken our insanely delectable Belgian quad and laid it to rest in some gigantic Portuguese sherry puncheons and a few incredible Grand Marnier barrels, each lending its own character to the base beer, adding layers and layers of complexity.

Releasing in the Brewtique on Black Friday and seeing extremely limited distribution throughout New Jersey next month, you won’t want to miss these brews!

We look forward to this release each year almost as much as you do. The folks in production begin designing it months in advance, based upon which barrels are available to them.

“It’s a very intentional pairing,” says Production Planning and Special Projects Manager Brian Hink, “where we’ll choose the barrels and design the beer almost simultaneously. So, this Belgian quad was very much designed for laying down in these specific barrels, with a rich and full body to hold up against the barrels, while also not being such an intense base beer that it completely masks the barrel’s contribution.”

If you recall, everyone in production had a great time designing the base beer. At its most basic, it’s a traditional Belgian quad, but we had a little fun with it, being a little non-traditional in our choice of hops, malts, and yeast. The result is complex, layered, sweet and fruity, robust but understated, perfect for barrel aging.

“I think any beer that doesn’t have a whole lot going on in the way of hop aroma or bitterness is the perfect ‘blank canvas’ for barrel aging,” says Lab Manager Lauren Appleman.

However, the intent behind Boughs of Barley has always been to allow the barrels we use to act as sort of a built-in variant, to show off how much of a difference the choice of barrel can make to the final beer.

“We always want barrels that will show up in the finished product,” Brian says, “and we always try to change it up and seek out different and exotic barrels to showcase.”

So, when we heard that we could get our hands on some freshly-dumped, oaken Grand Marnier barrels, the entire production team simultaneously raised their eyebrows and said, “Ooh!”

“The conversation usually begins with what barrels are available and then we’ll tailor the beer to match those barrels,” Brian tells us. “This year we came across the Grand Mariner barrels and thought they would be fun to play with, and the Portuguese sherry casks just sounded amazing, so we needed a beer that would pair nicely off either the richness of the sherry or the zesty, bright notes of the orange liqueur, and a Belgian quad was the perfect beer to play off those two different flavor profiles.”

And these Portuguese sherry puncheons are nothin’ to shake a stick at, either. First of all, they’re gigantic. Wine barrels typically hold about 59 gallons and bourbon barrels are about 53 gallons, but puncheons are more than twice their size, holding 132 gallons of delectable Portuguese sherry.

“If we pulled off the barrel head — with the barrel being empty, of course! — it would make a nice oval cubby for a full-sized adult to sleep in,” Brian explains. “They also weigh almost 200 pounds empty, and with them being almost five feet long and standing over four feet off the ground on the barrel rack, they’re just massive barrels.”

Brian had always hoped to get a few of these gargantuan barrels in-house, and this year’s Boughs of Barley seemed like the perfect time.

“They’re gorgeous and seemed like they’d be fun to play with,” he says. “The richness of the beer was definitely amplified by these barrels because the orange liqueur variant definitely isn’t as luxurious as the Portuguese sherry version. There are a lot of chocolatey undertones, with craisiny/date/prune-like notes complimenting the mouthfeel perfectly.”

However, the orange liqueur variant, while a bit more refined, certainly has some outstanding aspects to it, as well.

“The beer has a bright, zesty finish, which doesn’t show up at all in the Portuguese sherry variant,” he says. “We actually just did our final quality testing on the bottles this week, and the difference between the two is striking. This is always my favorite part of doing Boughs of Barley: showcasing the barrel’s influence as an ingredient.” 

Lauren agrees.

“Each barrel really shows off its best qualities,” she says, “and even though the base beer is exactly the same, you come out with two vastly different, but equally amazing beers.”

And, as usual for our Boughs of Barley, we suggest purchasing a few bottles of each variant, squirreling away a good number of them to allow to age.

“The orange liqueur variant has a bright zesty finish, almost leaning into a hint of tartness,” Brian says. “I think over time that’ll be subdued and the rich maltiness of the base beer will start to shine through.

However, Brian expects the Portuguese sherry variant to age even more gracefully.

“The characteristics we picked up from the barrel will play really nicely off the slow oxidation effects, really bringing out the rich dark fruit notes over time.”

Lauren is loving both variants but was particularly pleased with the Portuguese sherry variant.

“I remember the final barrel tasting that we did before blending back together and I was blown away by the flavor,” she says. “It was as if I was drinking a chocolate-covered cherry.”

With each variant clocking in over 12% ABV, you’re going to want to seek out the most wintery scene you can find while you consume these brews.

Brian suggests “a roaring fire with your housemates — or socially distanced around a fire with outside-your-home friends! –, a cigar if that’s your thing, some tasty jams on the ole music box, and enjoying this brisk weather! Sounds like a perfect pairing to me.”

However you choose to enjoy this year’s Boughs of Barley, you’ll want to grab some before it’s gone. Available beginning Black Friday, you can find them in the Brewtique for $17.99 + tax, or buy both bottles with their commemorative glasses for $43.99. And, this year, for Small Brewery Sunday on November 29th, we’ll throw the glasses in for free!

Don’t miss out! As we like to say, these will be gone before the first notes of Auld Lang Syne!