In my youth, I spent many Friday evenings figuratively glued to the TV set, enthralled by the Duke cousins’ exploits as they tore along the Georgia back roads in The General Lee on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” So when I read about Against the Grain Brewery’s recent event for the return of Bo & Luke, a smoked imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels, it caused a brief twinge of nostalgia that could only be cured by breaking out the bottle that has been aging in our cellar since September 2013.
As we poured the beer, the scent of extremely sweet bourbon exuded from the deep chestnut brown liquid, accompanied by quieter worn leather and dark chocolate tones. The smokiness, which was so overpowering when the beer was fresh two years ago it masked all other aromas, had mellowed pleasantly with time, now offering up mild tobacco traces in the background (much like a smoking parlor long after the last cigar has been extinguished). Like the nose, the taste was sweet right away: flavors of cola and vanilla washed over the tongue before delectable bourbon and a faint touch of dark cherries added to the richness that threatened to overrun the palate. Thankfully, an acrid, spicy punch of smoke felt in the back of the sticky mouthfeel emerged to help keep the beer from becoming cloying. The sugary oomph kept the alcohol in this 13%-ABV brew very well-hidden.
While this bottle of Bo & Luke was quite enjoyable, the overt sweetness suggests it could’ve benefited from a bit more cellar time, but any further aging also runs the risk of the now-pleasing smoky notes fading too much.