THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Thirsty Dog Tears It Up on the Bourbon Barrel Frontier!

by Harvey Gold on August 16, 2013

An interesting and confounding element of writing about craft beer is based on one of the great cultural charms of the industry. It remains, to a healthy degree, a regional effort. Gratefully, there are distributors whose goal is to make smaller brewers’ wares more ubiquitous; but still, if you’re doing your “only so many hours in a day” diligence, and there are 5 new, as of yet untasted brews on the shelf, and 4 of them are from your region and yours alone, well…

imagesThe upside is that readers can learn about what they might find when they travel and what your local brewers are doing of interest. And it may also makes them thirsty for something they can’t have, which might piss them off.

But in truth, “I don’t give a crap!” he exclaimed bitterly. I STILL can’t get New Belgium in Nohio, and constantly read about stunning West Coast beers I’ll have to wait to taste, if ever. So, not only have I already reviewed two really wonderful brews this summer from Thirsty Dog Brewing, in Akron OH—their Citra Dog IPA (Summer Beer of the Year) and Rail Dog Smoke Profile Black Lager (Death by Chocolate)—but now I am compelled to dig myself an even deeper, more spectacular hole.

Chase Cutting

Chase Cutting

So let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

This week, I held tastings of two terrific limited offerings from the very same Thirsty Dog: their Siberian Night Imperial Stout, aged in bourbon barrels for 11 months, and Wulver, a Scottish Wee Heavy, aged in the same fashion. I’ll look at them in order, having tasted them two nights apart, both with Stouthead-Audiophile Eric, and Red-Wine-&-Founders-KBS-Only Girl, Dolli.

I was pretty stoked, even at around $6 a bottle, when I saw a 4-pack of something marked “Wee Heavy.” In 2012 when I was last in Europe, I learned that this is not a term used in Scottish brewing these days with the frequency of 15-20 years ago. I’m sure there are beers there that are the same, if called something different, such as the lovely Caledonian 80, but I was surprised to approach a pretty young bartender in Gourock and ask for a heavy only to be met by a sweet smile and a blank stare. That said, it was Scottish Heavy that caused my eyebrows to raise way-back-when, probably cracking open the door for the creation of the smarmy beer yammerer you have before you today:

Dolli: “Chocolate and coconut!”

—Chocolate, alcohol, and I guess I’d agree to coconut, probably only because the idea was placed in my head. No head, no lacing to speak of.

Dolli: “Smooth as silk!”

index—Starting out cold, it was notably sweet and rich. Predictably, not a lot of distinctive flavor notes yet, but incredibly delicious. No clue as to the 12% alcohol in its mouthfeel and drinkability. The bourbon barrel clearly obvious in it’s influence, but nothing shouting out “whiskey!”, a quality critical to yours truly.

Eric: “Don’t even think beer; think multi-flavored, wonderful thing!”

—So even though the alcohol was undetectable, clearly it’s already going to work!

As it warmed a tad, the nose showed more bourbon in it. I also felt that with just the perfect amount of weight to call the mouthfeel creamy, the chocolate and coffee notes all combined to reveal the notion of “Mocha.”

Eric: “The flavor has a long hold on the tongue after the sip.” (This is something Eric tends to look for in a brew, having flavor(s) linger for consideration after the sip has ended.)

Wulver absolutely rivals the the hallowed KBS. It’s every bit as delicious, but as a Wee Heavy, as opposed to a weighty stout, it has more drinkability to it; i.e., I can do more damage on more occasions with it! In the Bourbon Barrel Universe, thus far, the best I’ve tasted. Never did the alcohol impose itself in the nose or mouth…only the brain, as God intended. The balance of flavors stayed balanced from the recommended 43 degrees all the way to the last sip. A really outstanding drinking experience! This should clean up with medals.

Just as my pocketbook was ruined in Aberdeen with my first taste of a real Single Malt Scotch, this seems, at $6 a bottle, to be absolutely reasonable in it’s pricing! So yeah, a “…multi-flavored wonderful thing!”

Two nights later, we gathered again and went after Thirsty Dog’s Siberian Night Imperial Stout…DELUXE, as it, too was BB aged for the same 11 months.

Eric: “The nose is a little more Dr. Peppery.”

Dolli: “No coconut.”

—How have they set a tone for the credibility of this report?

No head, minimal lacing, this was heavier of mouth, of course, compared to the Wulver—more comparable, as one would imagine, to the fabled KBS we’ve been fawning over for a couple years now.

siberian nightTo my mouth: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate! But this chocolate tasted like dark, almost unsweetened, chocolate blended with milk sugars. Eric and I agreed that between the flavor and mouthfeel, it could be a big, bad, wonderful milk stout.

We all agree that at 10.9%, like the Wulver, this iteration of TD‘s award winning Siberian Night had everything so well integrated, you’d never know it was so high an ABV, unless, in both offerings, you attribute the vivid and bold flavor to being boosted by said alcohol, which wouldn’t be a wrongheaded notion, I daresay.

The one area where I felt (and Eric agreed) this brew didn’t compare favorably to it’s rival/sister KBS or it’s sibling Wulver, was in it’s carbonation. It possessed what I describe as the smaller, more active bubbles, which for my taste, was incongrous with the overall richness offered in every other respect by this big stout.

Yet when I lit a cigar about 1/3 of the way through the 12 oz. glass—an Avo Uvezian Domaine Avo Purito, a nicely weighted little Dominican Maduro—I realized that very carbonation played a role in cooling the palate and allowing the stout to hold it’s own with the smoke. As a matter of fact, that first sip after lighting up had a new note come into play as I exclaimed “Nice bitter!” At 58 IBU, this made sense. I also felt more presence of the bourbon barrel, but reiterate that the principal role it still played, along with the alcohol, was to boost and give depth to the chocolate and malt.

Finally, Dolli, with a bite of home-baked oatmeal raisin cookie, eyes opened very, very wide:  “Wow! Chocolate-covered oatmeal raisin cookies! Dessert stout!”

Maybe so. Siberian Night is big, sweet, and super filling. I’d like to do a side-by-side with the KBS sometime, but in the meantime, finding this Imperial stout even and delicious to the very last sip, it’s totally making our next “Top” list.

Glad I moved back to the Midwest.

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