If the price we’re willing to pay for things is any indication of quality, Perennial’s Barrel-Aged Abraxas is a world-beating beer. As of this writing, bottles of were available on the aftermarket beer sales site mybeercollectibles.com for $425 to $600 and had sold on other sites for similar values. Meanwhile, plain old Abraxas—if you can call a 10% ABV oatmeal stout with ancho chiles, cinnamon, vanilla beans and cacao nibs “plain”—usually goes for around 50 bucks.
Here’s the problem with that: Un-aged Abraxas is the better beer.
As so-called “Mexican stouts” go, Perennial Abraxas is damn near perfect. Complex but compact, its flavor places Mexican chocolate atop cinnamon graham crackers. The ancho peppers don’t smell spicy, but rather earthy, like the dried peppers you might find hanging on the wall at an authentic Mexican restaurant, and the cinnamon is sweet like cinnamon gummy bears. Each flavor interlocks with the others seamlessly, and the lingering capsaicin warmth is subtle enough it could almost be mistaken for the heat of alcohol. Though it looks like something environmentalists have to scrub off seagulls after an oil spill, the beer’s also oddly drinkable. It’s a masterpiece of nuance.
And in Barrel-Aged Abraxas, the nuance is lost. Twelve months in Rittenhouse Rye barrels give the beer an aroma like German chocolate cake soaked—soaked—in whiskey, and the flavor is equally front-loaded with the spirit. The chocolate seems thinner and tangier, a watered-down hot Mexican chocolate as opposed to the Wonka-esque waterfall of the non-barreled bottle, and the cinnamon has thinned out and become almost gingery.
Don’t get us wrong; we wouldn’t kick BA Abraxas out of bed. It is, by all accounts, a Very Good Beer. But the standard Abraxas is a Great Beer, and it’s hard to argue that a piece of what makes it great isn’t lost in the barrel-aging process.
We’ve come to the same conclusion with most barrel-aged versions of Mexican stouts we’ve tried: Arizona Wilderness Presidential Stout, Westbrook Mexican Cake, Prairie Bomb!, Wren House Olmec, even Cigar City Hunahpu’s. When we taste the barrel-aged versions of these beers, we don’t taste whiskey in addition to the chocolate, vanilla and spices; we taste the whiskey instead of everything else. It’s subtraction by addition.
We’re not saying, of course, that these beers should be avoided. By all means, try to get your hands on a bottle of BA Presidential, Double Barrel Hunahpu’s or Barrel Aged Abraxas. The shenanigans you’ll see at the events that surround the release of these beers are alone worth the price of admission. But if you don’t have $425 laying around to spend on a single bottle, fear not: There’s an even better version of the beer that’s probably available right now, and at a fraction of the cost.