Maryland Beer: A barrel aged Barleywine shootout (PART 1: DuClaw)

No matter where you live, in the past few years you have had at least one new brewery open near you. Maryland is no exception to that trend. Another nice thing is the breweries that have been established for some time in an area, will mature and add new products to compete with their new competitors. One way this can be done is with a barrel aging program. So what I have here are barrel aged beers from three Maryland breweries that have had an established barrel program for a few years now. But each barrel program seems to be getting bigger and better.

  • From Heavy Seas – Below Decks Aged in Cabernet Barrels
  • From DuClaw – Devil’s Milk Aged in Bourbon Barrels
  • And from Flying Dog – Horn Dog Aged in Port Wine Barrels

beer shootout1This week I am going to focus on the offering from DuClaw. Like all of the breweries in this shootout, DuClaw started as a brewpub and has recently moved to a larger brewing and bottling facility. The first beer from the new brewing facility should be released this month.

DuClaw can now be found in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Of course depending on when you are reading this it could be more. DuClaw now has a number of barrel aged beers, the most well-known of these being Retribution which is a big Imperial Stout aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels. Now Devil’s Milk gets the opportunity to be rested in Heaven Hill Barrels. Yes, the milk of the devil resting in barrels from heaven. Something about that makes it feel like there is going to be an earthquake or some other apocalyptic event. But, instead you get some sweet delicious beer.

For each of these beers I review, I am using the same process. I am chilling the beer at 37 degrees. I then take them out for 20 minutes prior to uncapping. Then I am scoring using the same score sheets we use in my homebrew club, The Cross Street Irregulars.

So, I did mention this beer is delicious, right?

The first pour into a glass can be a little exciting. This wasn’t my first sample of this, so it wasn’t quite as exciting. The beer pours a nice dark amber hue, and gets a decent head on it. The head dissipates pretty quickly, until there is just a thin wafer of a head. It looks quite pretty in glass, as it is crystal clear, has tiny streams of bubbles, and slight head that talks to me like a Lloyd spoke to Jack Torrance.

duclawThe smell of this beer is enticing. Lots of malt and sweetness and sweetness. Caramel, vanilla, plum, and oak are present. There are also some mild fruit esters with a hint of banana, and just a slight smell of some grassy hops. When it hits your lips, all of those smells translate accurately into taste. Lots of rich sweet flavors like caramel and vanilla. With some grassy and slightly piney hops on the finish.

Also a lot of dark fruit and stone fruit flavors hiding in there, trying to get notice of the significant caramel flavors. I have seen some mention an overly boozy finish. I didn’t really get much booziness from the barrel aging. Which to me is both a good thing and a bad thing. I like to get a boozy taste from any beer over 10 percent ABV, that way I don’t get myself into too much trouble.

The barrel aging seems to have primarily given this beer a lot of caramel and vanilla, and has pushed the hops down a little. This is my second bottle of this I have had recently, and the hops were much less noticeable in this bottle, than the last bottle I sampled.

This confused me as to whether this was an American or English Barleywine. I did get a hop bite on the finish, but it is pretty brief, and as the beer sits in your glass the bite seems to fade. It seemed considerably less than a typical American Barleywine.

By the end of the bottle, that I was sharing with my wife, we were both noticing that it does become cloying. The fact the hops have faded since my last bottle of this, I am wondering if aging this might do more harm than good since aging will diminish the hop presence even further. However aging it could help dry it out, and remove the cloying sweetness and impart some more complexity. I did mention this beer is delicious right?

Overall, I am really impressed with what DuClaw has done with their Barrel Aging program. All of the beers that I have had from it are very sweet, very rich, and very good. I’d really be interested to see them start releasing Heaven Hill aged product next to let’s say a Blanton’s aged product to see how the aging process from different barrels effects the product. Hint hint. This is definitely a beer I will pick up with each release