Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Alltech's Lexington - Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale Review

Brewery: Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company (KY)
Style: English Strong Ale
ABV: 8.2%
Grade: A-

Whenever I open up a bourbon-barrel aged beer and find it anything less than black, I'm a bit taken aback. But that doesn't really make sense — you don't need a stout to compliment barrel aging. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale isn't much darker than some East Coast IPAs, but after a few sips, it's winning me over more than many of its roastier cousins.

With a lighter body and a milder beer character backing it, the bourbon has to be more balanced and subtle to work. The brewery could have easily screwed that up, but in my opinion, this hits a perfect balance and creates something I never really expected to find: a sessionable bourbon-barrel aged beer. I mean, sure, it's 8.2% percent, but that's nothing compared to some bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts, and most importantly, it tastes like you could drink three or four of these in a row.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale reminds me most of Innis & Gunn Original, much more so than American stouts like Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout and Founder's KBS. It's got the mild, toffee-sweet flavor of a malty English beer, with no hints of roast or chocolate. The malt flavor has a clean sweetness to it — a sweetness that I actually enjoy, which is impressive — even if it's lacking in depth and complexity. It's a little lighter and less malty than a strong Scotch ale, but that should put you on the right track. What makes it work is the subtlety of the bourbon flavor — it sounds ridiculous to even write this out, but the flavor is almost what I'd call "delicate." Are you done rolling on the floor laughing yet? It's delicate, in the sense that all the flavors here are clear and bright and sweet, yet simultaneously understated, and brisk. Vanilla jumps ahead of the bourbon, and the oak helps give this a dry finish. A decent amount of carbonation moves the mouthfeel along, and despite the mild sweetness of the malts, the flavor drops off quickly, leaving a clean mouthfeel throughout.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is clearly meant to be drinkable, rather than complex and challenging, so in that sense, they nailed it. 'Complex' doesn't automatically mean 'great' in every case, anyway; not if the flavors are a mess. My understanding is that Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is something of a regional favorite in the south, or at least a niche regional favorite. A few bottles of it just appeared in New York — I'm not sure if this is going to be a regular thing, because I have yet to see it again, but I hope so. I'd happily reach for a glass of this again.

Availability: Year round. 12 ounce bottles.

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