Barrel-Aged 1st Meal
Here’s what we had to say about RaR’s 1st Meal when our panel of judges scored it a 91 last year:
This breakfast stout brewed with cacoa nibs, coffee, Vermont maple syrup and smoked malts emits rich notes of hazelnut creamer, Kahlua and vanilla, with just enough coffee roast underneath to take it from latte to beer territory. The sip begins sweet, with a.m.-appropriate flavors of creamy coffee, maple syrup and milky lactose. A wisp of breezy smoke arrives a beat later, calling to mind crispy bacon. Malt sweetness lingers after the easy finish. tweet
In the barrel-aged version of 1st Meal, all those base notes are still present, but they’re cradled by a bourbon blanket that enhances the beer’s inherent sweetness. Accordingly, the bold, saccharine flavor of marzipan leads each sip, with almond milk and sweet maple arriving soon after. Additional notes of chocolate-covered raisins and marshmallows push the beer even further into dessert territory, but a soft, bacony smokiness arrives heroically at the swallow to bring things back into balance.
The brewers at Ecliptic are just really, really good at creating stellar (ha!) examples of well-known styles. From its appearance (deep burgundy with a dense oatmeal-colored head) to its aroma (caramel, baking bread and pine nuts juxtaposed with nectarine, grass clippings and a hint of lime) to its flavor (apple chips, caramelized sugar and crunchy bread combined with pineapple and orange pulp before a toasty, woody swallow), Phobos is a classic, pleasant American amber ale, which is an increasingly rare find.
Deuce of Clubs
Wren House Brewing Co.
Before we go any further, a caveat: This beer is under-carbonated. Nearly still, in fact. Wren House says this was an intentional choice for improved mouthfeel; we can’t help but view it as a flaw. HOWEVER. Get past that, and there’s a lot to like here.
First, the name, which is a nifty little nod to Show Low, a tiny burg located in BFE Arizona, about 120 miles northeast of Phoenix. Legend has it that the town’s name came about as the result of a poker match between a pair of ranchers who’d decided the 100,000-acre plot of land on which they operated wasn’t big enough for the two of them. The winner would keep the ranch; the loser would skip town. The game went on for hours, and with no end in sight, the exhausted ranchers determined that they’d each draw one final card, with the man who could “show low” being declared the winner. Rancher Corydon Cooley then turned over the lowest possible card: the deuce of clubs. “Show low it is.” The main road through town is still named “Deuce of Clubs” in homage to this tale.
And then there’s the flavor. Deuce of Clubs begins life as a thick, roasty, anise-spicy, 11.3% imperial stout. Most of what makes it great is gleaned from the barrels in which it’s aged—barrels that first held tawny port, then housed Framboesa Atando, a raspberry mead produced by Superstition Meadery that’s currently the 12th-ranked mead in the world on ratebeer.com. Allow the beer to warm properly—we’re talking nearly room temperature—and it reveals every bit of what those barrels have to offer, melding tobacco, plums, raspberries and dark chocolate in a manner both decadent and subtle. It may be flat, but so is good port. Sip it in a snifter, preferably while sitting in a library surrounded by shelves of leather-bound books.
Side Project Brewing
This wild ale aged on blackberries earned its way onto this list before we even had a chance to taste it—the rich, layered aroma blending French vanilla ice cream, cabernet, caramel sauce, cherry pumice, amaretto, blackberry jam and leather dipped inside well-aged cherry balsamic was more than enough for us to make the call. The thick blackberry/boysenberry syrup, almond and coconut notes that emerged on the tongue before characteristically bold Side Project acidity eroded the flavor like lapping waves? Those just sealed the deal.
Loral, for the unaware (as we were until getting our hands on this can), is a hop variety released last year whose lineage includes the American-grown varieties Glacier and Nugget and a French aroma hop known as Tardif de Bourgogne. The people who grow it describe the aroma as pleasantly floral and peppery, with notes of lemon and dark fruit. As a component of Reuben’s rotating Crush series of hazy, New England-style IPAs however, we found it to smell like golden raisins and peach-tangerine juice, with additions of muddled mango, green coconut and dried vanilla supported by soft wheat loaves and bags of mown grass. (Granted, some of those juicy, fruity notes were likely contributed by the yeast.) The flavor seems to be a better pure display of what Loral has to offer, as it leaves the stone fruits behind and goes full citrus, with a bold tangerine zest character underlaid by grass, pineapple and wheat crackers, and followed by quick flash of chive at the swallow. Welcome to the the beer world, Loral. It’s our privilege to extend to you a laurel, and hearty handshake.