[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving reviewed the 2011 Founders KBS Kentucky Breakfast Stout already on draft, it is time to compare this legendary imperial stout against some other barrel aged beers as well as against the 2010 vintage. Does a beer that is already cave aged an entire year fade away after another year in the bottle? Does the KBS in the bottle live up to the promise of being one of the most flavorful, indulgent beers on the planet? For these answers and more, read on friends.
For the tasting we drank five beers served in a blind sampling. In addition to the 2011/2010 KBS bottles we had the Brooklyn Black OPS, Kentucky Ale’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and Arcadia Ale’s Shipwreck Porter.
Each of these beers has spent time in a Bourbon barrel. Unlike Tennessee or Canadian whiskey, these Kentucky Bourbon barrels by law cannot be used more than once, meaning they are freshly loaded with the taste of the spirit as well as the qualities of American oak like vanilla and mocha tannins. If you do not like whiskey flavors there may still be something for you in the stouts and porter.
Beer: Kentucky Breakfast Stout (2011)
ABV: 11.2% [/box]
Dave: Huge chocolate/coffee nose. Vanilla, chocolate flavors. Nummy; big flavors. I like it a lot.
Steve: Big coffee nose, black, thick lacing; engulfing bourbon opening; big malt/ chocolate notes; harsh bourbon finish.
Rich: Strong coffee smell + taste
An amazing blast of chocolate/coffee/vanilla/bourbon. The favorite of Dave and Rich for its heady mix of deliciousness. Hedonism in a glass.
Beer: Kentucky Breakfast Stout (2010)
ABV: 11.2% [/box]
Dave: Huge chocolate nose, baking chocolate and whiskey flavors; a tad thin. Yum.
Steve: Black lacing, high ABV finish, lots of bourbon, coffee and chocolate nicely mixed
Rich: Roasted coffee taste
The more balanced of the KBS brews. The extra year in the bottle has robbed it of almost nothing, except some of the bourbon finish and perhaps some of the coffee flavor. Steve’s favorite for the huge flavors acting in harmony.
[box]Brewer: Brooklyn Brewing
Beer: Black Ops
Dave: Whiskey nose, nice roasty flavor. Some vanilla notes, a bit hot. Could use some age, but good now.
Steve: Dark lacing; prominent chocolate and vanilla, good hoppy bourbon finish
Rich: Very boozy; tastes like Maker’s Mark
We have reviewed this in the past and it was again great, but not quite on par with the Shipwreck or KBS.
[box]Brewer: Kentucky Ale
Beer: Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
Dave: Lots of vanilla aroma, tastes like Buffalo Trace Bourbon in an ale without the burn. Not bad.
Steve: Light color; sweet vanilla, some bourbon notes as well
Rich: Lightest in color; hint of cream soda.
Now this is an ale, not a dark stout or porter. And it is not aged for the 9-14 months the others are. Instead it only gets 6 weeks maturation before bottling. That said it is a drinkable, very sweet experience that would not be offensive to the palate for whiskey lovers wanting a sweet and refreshing brew. That said, it is not in the same weight class as the others reviewed here.
[box]Brewer: Arcadia Ales
Beer: Shipwreck Porter
Dave: Bourbon with a slightly sour aroma, raisins, chocolate and vanilla. Nice velvety feel, dry finish. Good, interesting dark fruit notes.
Steve: Very sweet malts, like Imperial stout, mid palette hops, clean finish, yeasty, less chocolate and vanilla
Rich: Slight hint of fruit. Strawberry Frapaccino?
Aged 14 (!) months in Bourbon barrels in abandoned mines, this Baltic Porter–a style similar to the potent imperial stout–is a great beer. The major fruit flavors pair seductively with bourbon, chocolate and vanilla to make a rich, wonderfully full blend. In the scoring Shipwreck came in only a bit behind the two KBS vintages at the top of our lists. You would never guess the alcohol content as being nearly as strong is it is. Really well made.
These beers are not simply watered down Basil Hayden. Kentucky Ale spends only a few weeks in the barrels, but that is enough to make it an interesting alternative to a strong ale if you like your beer sweet. The KBS, Black OPS and Shipwreck are dynamic, bourbon-y vanilla/mocha masterpieces. Seek them out when they are available.
One note about availability. Other than the Kentucky Ale, the beers reviewed here are very limited in their availability. Brooklyn hardly acknowledges the existence of Black OPS, Shipwreck is scarce, and people take vacation days just to line up at the Founder’s brewery for the chance to get a few bottles of KBS. Ask your local beer vendor–try late winter–or look for these brewers to have a few kegs at special events like the Great American Beer Festival.