Hill Farmstead (VT)
Style: Black IPA
When I started drinking Jimmy, I had no idea this thing was 10% ABV. Whoa. It does not drink like it. I had assumed Jimmy was basically within normal black IPA / IPA range, and was therefore a bit surprised at how sweet and rich it was. It's light-ish body doesn't manage to hide a syrupy, almost oily mouthfeel. A little odd for a regular black IPA, but certainly not one of this potency. The fact that the alcohol is almost entirely hidden, save for the inevitable warming sensation as it slides down your throat, is impressive. You could easily argue that this isn't a black IPA or imperial black IPA at all, seeing as it's aged for four months in wine barrels. As the old saying goes: "One man's unusually strong barrel-aged black IPA is another man's unusually-highly-hopped and light-bodied imperial stout."
Even if you can't quite taste it, the alcohol still comes to define Jimmy. It's just too warm and rich to disguise itself as any kind of IPA — I spent my first few sips searching for a huge hop hit that isn't there. After a few minutes, you can pick out the booze in the aroma, but it refuses to show itself in the flavor. The finish is dry, almost tart. There's graceful chocolate-y notes and some fruity slickness from the wine barrels, as well as a big nose of cherries, aged grapes and dark chocolate; the hops are noticeably faded, and the bitterness isn't much more than you'd find in your typical stout. There's a bit of oaky bite in the finish, which is where the hops come out in greatest force as well, rounding out the fruity notes from the wine barrel aging with some citrus and pine.
This is an oddball of a beer, and it doesn't really fit into any style or category. There are so many flavors at work here, it can almost seem too much at times, while paradoxically maintaining a balance that is about as pure as a beer like this could possibly achieve.
Related: having tried a number of different Hill Farmstead offerings at this point, a recurring theme I'm noticing in Shaun Hill's creations is the soft, airy composition of most of his beers. He mentions his brewing water quite a lot, even gives it a mention on each bottle's list of ingredients, so it's obviously quite important. And it's obvious he knows his stuff. Hill Farmstead beers are so 'soft' they almost seem to dissolve in your mouth. I hope to figure out more of what's going on there as I learn more about brewing water chemistry.
Availability: Limited release. 16 ounce bottles.