Here’s the problem I have with barrel-aged IPAs: They’re an affront to the most wonderful aspects of an IPA (fresh, bright hops) and what I desire from beer rested in a barrel (rich, complex toasted oak and flavorful spirits). You shouldn’t age an IPA at all unless you’re going to do it for a long, long time, and because brewers want to preserve some semblance of hop character in the base beer, they usually remove it from the barrels much too soon, resulting in what is in essence a tired-out IPA with sharp oak. You get the worst of both worlds.
Richland’s Reserve from Athens, Georgia-based Terrapin Beer Co. doesn’t have this problem. First, the base beer was hardly an IPA to begin with—Terrapin used Hopzilla, a monstrous, 11% imperial IPA that had already been aged several months before it went into wet rum barrels from Georgia distiller Richland Distilling Company. Second, it was aged in said barrels for a full year before it was bottled last November. That’s plenty of time for the hops in the base beer to dissipate, plenty of time for it to soak up tons of caramelized oak and sugar cane. An extra few months of cellar aging to allow its flavors to meld, and Richland’s Reserve becomes the first barrel-aged IPA I’ve ever actually enjoyed.
Sure, it’s not much to look at—cloudy (some would say muddy) sienna with a head that dissipates far too quickly—but the aroma’s rich with barrel and malt notes: caramel, tobacco, fig, vanilla, bread crust, toffee, sugary cherry. A swirl brings forward the grainy notes before sweeter oak tones settle in. Tangy, sweet orange juice leads the sip but soon gives way to plums, spiced molasses, brown sugar and leather. Almost nothing remains of Hopzilla’s 120 IBUs—which is a shame, because the nearly cloying finish could actually use some bitterness for balance—but there’s also hardly a hint of alcohol, even in a beer that’s 12% ABV.
Yes, the bottle’s only about four months old at this point, but by making Richland’s Reserve with an already-old IPA to begin with, Terrapin took care of most of the hard part for us. Time served has been a plenty-long sentence for this brew—I suggest you release it soon for good behavior.