When Hattiesburg, Mississippi’s Southern Prohibition Brewing released Ragana Baltic porter, its winter seasonal, in cans this year, it jogged my memory: “Don’t we have a bottle of this in our cellar?”
We did. It was a 750mL of the bourbon barrel-aged version, released in winter 2014, which we’d stashed away for just such an occasion. I enjoy comparing a barrel-aged version of something to its standard, non-BA counterpart. Sometimes, the barrel’s character—be it fresh oak or bourbon’s vanilla or a tequila barrel’s earthy agave notes—enhances the base style, teasing out nuances and bringing certain background flavors to the fore. Other times, the barrel dominates the base beer, overwhelming the subtleties that made it great. Which would this be?
Ragana, 2015 non-barrel-aged (can): A Baltic porter is essentially a ramped up English porter, with higher alcohol and quiet roast that showcases good malt complexity and dark fruit notes. Ragana nails it: The nose offers light roast at the background, with raspberry and plum aromas at the fore. The 7.8% ABV sip unfolds beautifully: First, a touch of blueberry sweetness greets the tongue, then sweet chocolate and schwarzbier-level roast take over at midsip. Ashy roast pleasantly dominates the swallow, and builds sip after sip. The interplay of sweet fruit and roast is really enjoyable, without being too complicated.
Ragana, 2014 bourbon barrel-aged (bottle): There’s no mistaking this for a bourbon barrel-aged brew, even from first sniff. Huge scents of wet barrel, vanilla and leathery whiskey waft off the pour, obscuring any roast or malt depth behind them. The sip is similar. Whiskey drinkers will appreciate the muscular vanilla and bourbon flavors, which arrive early and linger. Some cola sweetness just tempers the bourbon flavor (though at 7.8%, the same as the non-BA version, this isn’t especially boozy), but all of the ashy roast and dark we enjoyed in the non-barrel aged version seems to have fallen off, coated in the barrel’s creme brulee sweetness. Still, it’s not unenjoyable, especially if you’re a brown spirits fan. We’ll take another can of the standard Ragana, though.