Bourbon Barrel Aged Concrete Ship
We see you shiver. With antici….
That’s pretty much how barrel aging goes. We’ll start on a project, then shiver with anticipation for about a year until we finally get to reap the fruits of our labors.
It’s the case of this week’s release: we’ve had our fan-favorite Russian Imperial stout, Concrete Ship, aging for ten months in freshly emptied bourbon barrels, and the anticipation is finally over.
As a Russian Imperial stout, Concrete Ship started its life as a relatively boozy brew. This style of beer was conceived by Catherine the Great as a way to keep her troops happy as they trekked from London across the frozen tundra of Russia.
It’s cold up there. A 10% beer makes the trek a little easier to handle, though still cold.
While the weather is turning a bit less like the frozen tundra of Russia — it’s more like foggy, rainy London these days — our Imperial Russian Stout has been begging us to hole it up in some tasty barrels.
“Concrete Ship was designed with barrel aging in mind, with 8 different malts laying the backbone,” says Innovation Director Brian Hink. “It has this malty complexity that’s rich and indulgent, and when paired with the bourbon characteristics that came through from the barrel aging, it has this beautiful velvety texture that pairs amazingly well off of the base beer.”
These were some beautiful barrels, too: gorgeous oak, freshly dumped, and in great shape, from a “very reputable” distillery located in the heart of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail where they held their delicious nectar for over seven years.
“They came to us in perfect condition,” Brian says. “Good strong head staves with little to no leaking through the staves so they held pressure nicely which keeps oxygen from ingressing into the liquid.”
They were still nice and wet on the inside, which is what you’re looking for with spirit barrels.
“That’s always a great sign,” Brian says, “so we got a good amount of spirit character from the barrels. With spirit barrel aging you’re going to get the bulk of the barrel’s influence on that first fill, and any subsequent fills you’re just going to get a slight touch of the barrel character.”
And they smelled incredible. The entire brewery smelled like bourbon for days.
“It was a nice change of pace,” Brian says.
We laid this one in these beautiful bourbon barrels for about 10 months as they soaked up flavors of bourbon, vanillans, a touch of char, oak, and woodsiness — all flavors that are perfectly complementary to a big, bold Imperial stout like Concrete Ship. Then we put it up in a steel hotel — a fermenter — for another month or two before we packaged it up.
“This beer has been in barrels for a long time,” says Lab Manager Lauren Appleman, “and for most of that time, the barrels lived over at the sour facility so they were a little out-of-sight, out-of-mind.”
They weren’t forgotten, though. Lauren, Brian, and Lab Technician Matt Allen frequently checked in on them.
“I love tasting these beers as they age because you can look back at your tasting notes and see how each individual barrel has evolved,” Lauren says. “For me, my favorite barrels imparted just enough boozy character that you could tell that it came from a bourbon barrel but also had enough of the chocolate malty notes and a touch of vanilla on the aroma.”
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!
“It wasn’t just drinking though,” she explains. “We would also check on the gravity and pH as the beer aged, and we had to check each barrel for potential spoilage organisms before we could blend them together and run everything through our canning line.”
And run them through our canning line we did. This is our first canning run with 19.2-ounce cans. These guys are huge. One can is the perfect barbecue beer, pairing excellently with anything off of a grill.
Brian claims that he’s going to be shotgunning them, and we may hold him to it.
“But no,” he backpedals. “I plan to enjoy it out of my favorite tulip glass at home.”
“The flavors will shine a little more,” he explains. “The colder a liquid is the less potent its flavors are: the cold suppresses everything, so by letting it warm up you’ll be able to start picking up on some of the more subtle nuances.”
Lauren and her husband get together with some friends from college every few weeks for a weekend of board games and catching up.
“We rarely ever come empty-handed,” she says. “This is a perfect beer for sharing and slowly sipping while ruthlessly playing board games.”
Sounds like a good weekend!
You’ll be able to grab your cans of Bourbon Barrel-Aged Concrete Ship at better liquor stores throughout the area and from the Brewtique this weekend. See you then!