Bell’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cherry Stout
Imperial Stout, 8.5% ABV
Sayeth the Guys:
Ryan: It was the summer of 2008 and I had just wrapped up a meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I had only been at my new job for a few weeks and was hopping around the state to meet with some clients. As I was leaving the meeting in K’zoo someone asked me if I like beer. Well, that’s a silly question, of course I like beer. “Well, then you have to go to Bell’s Eccentric Cafe and check out the general store – it’s just down the street,” they said. I had heard of Bell’s and had been introduced to Oberon just a few weeks prior, so I was eager to check out what all the fuss was about.
So I pull in to their small parking lot off Kalamazoo Avenue and meandered in to the general store to find coolers full of Bell’s beer – including the bottle pictured above. “A bourbon barrel aged cherry stout, huh? That sounds cool,” I thought to myself. So I bought two six packs. I remember having one or two and liking it. A lot. So I spread the wealth and a gave a few bottles to Karl and his wife and maybe one or two to Frequent Commenter Ben. And next thing you know I only had a few bottles left. And that’s when I realized what I had. And that it would likely never be brewed again. So I squirreled it away for a while. Or, more accurately, for two-and-a-half years.
Prior to this tasting I cracked the second-to-last bottle on Thanksgiving weekend 2009. The three of us (although Andrew may not remember) did a bourbon barrel beer tasting for the heck of it and this beer was one of the handful that we sampled. I faintly recall a sweet, syrupy, very cherry beer that had nice touches of bourbon and vanilla. Unfortunately I think we held on to this for a little too long. This is clearly past its prime.
Pouring jet black with some gorgeous red hues along the edges, the BBCS gave off a nose of whiskey, a touch of cherries and milk chocolate. Sadly, the punch was in the aroma because the flavors had dropped off considerably. Gone was the all-out cherry assault up front, replaced by a cherry tartness and flavors akin to cherry pie filling. There was still a bit of bourbon flavors but they were rather muted, reduced to only touches of oak and vanilla. My poor lone bottle also suffered a bit of oxidation too giving it a bit of a wet cardboard taste.
This wasn’t awful but it certainly wasn’t as good as it once was.
Karl: When Ryan first poured me a Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout a couple years ago, it was one of those beer epiphanies that happen oh-so-rarely. It remains among the pantheon of “greatest beers I’ve ever had.” Sadly, the skies neither parted nor did we see the return of angelic choirs when we dipped back into the cellar for another ‘07. The time for this beer was “then.” Not now.
Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty good. There was a good cherry presence and bourbon burn remaining on the nose of the beer, up front and personal after hanging out in the bottle for 4 years. The flavor is where we see the significant changes. Whereas the huge cherry-bourbon mashup of yore was what I hoped for, what I got was some muted cherry-chocolate flavor with nearly no bourbon flavor whatsoever. However, if you’re into wood flavors, the taste of that barrel came through loud and clear. It was nice to experience, but not what I was looking for.
Bodywise, it was thinner and lighter than the last time we dove into this, and again, didn’t match my expectations. I wish Bell’s would do this every other year or so in the hopes that I could chase that bourbon-cherry dragon once again, but I suppose memories will have to suffice this time. I actually found myself rushing through my glass to get to whatever was next. Alas.
Andrew: Unlike Karl, I was not afforded the opportunity to try the Bourbon Barrel Cherry Stout prior to this pour, so I had no baseline from which to work from.
Even with that, meh. Big ole pile of meh. The nose was rather fantastic, with notes of cherry, vanilla and whiskey. At that point I was sure that this beer would deliver.
Then upon first taste you get a bit of sour up front. “I like where this is going,” I thought. And then nothing. Certainly not the Cherry Stout that I was looking/hoping for. Sure there were some nutty, oaky undertones with some sweetness/sour from the cherry and even a little alcohol burn to boot, but man what a disappointment.