Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Founders - Backwoods Bastard Review

Brewery: Founders (MI)
Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy
ABV: 10.2%
Grade: B+

Founders' other bourbon barrel aged beers are among the most famous and sought after in the world, but I've never seen nearly as much love given to Backwoods Bastard, the brewery's bourbon barrel aged Scotch Ale. (Presumably, Backwoods Bastard is to Dirty Bastard what KBS is to Breakfast Stout.) Released in the fall, Backwoods Bastard can be purchased (unlike CBS) without having to race anyone down the street or toss around Molotov cocktails in order to create a distraction.

The defining factor of a bourbon barrel aged beer isn't really how the bourbon is going to taste — bourbon barrels don't exactly have the diversity of, say, hops — but how balanced and how well integrated it's going to be. That Backwoods Bastard has a bourbon flavor that's bold and clear isn't a surprising achievement, but this rich flavor is nicely integrated into the smooth, malty beer playing host to it. At least with a year of age on it: I'm drinking a bottle of the 2011 vintage a few weeks before 2012 hits the shelves. I've heard this is hot and messy when fresh, so you may also want to stick it in your closet for a year. Bourbon barrel aged beers are usually imperial stouts for a reason: the bigger the beer, the easier it holds up to a huge, aggressive flavor like bourbon. An extra strength Scotch ale proves fairly able here; maybe less characterful, in some ways, but smoother too. What Backwoods Bastard lacks in roasty, chocolatey undertones, it makes up for by remaining cleaner and less rich than its cousins. There's no denying that this is a sweet, tongue-coating beer, but it's got a nice quick finish — at least more so than many of its peers.

And while Backwoods Bastard is less complex, at first, it seems like you can appreciate it for longer. Without the heavy roasted malts, some lighter fruit flavors peek out: I get notes of apples and plum. As the beer warms, these fruity, lighter flavors gain a bit of traction against the bourbon, but also reveal how light and two-dimensional Backwoods Bastard is. It works to a point, but then starts to remind me that this should either be less boozy, or just grab a bolder beer character to back itself up. And then we're back to barrel aged imperial stouts.

Obviously, you won't want to be hammering down pints of this. But if Founders could somehow travel back in time and market this to mining towns in the 1800's, I can easily picture rustic taverns full of grizzled, bearded mountain men getting silly on this stuff, before wandering out into the dirt streets and unleashing some Deadwood-style ruckus.

Availability: Fall release. 12 ounce bottles, fourpacks.

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