Does the Perrin Killing Craft Series Reach the Standard the Brewery Set?

In Beer News by Ryan

A Michigan brewer wants to set a standard for other craft brewers. Did the Perrin Killing Craft series accomplish the goal?

perrinkillingcraftLast fall Perrin Brewing Company in Comstock Park, MI — north of Grand Rapids — announced plans for a “Killing Craft Series” of beers. The lineup — the first bottled offerings from Perrin — were in response to a call by the Brewers Association for craft brewers to focus on quality. “With so many brewery openings, the potential is there for things to start to degrade on the quality side, and we wouldn’t want that to color the willingness of the beer drinker to try new brands,” said BA Director Paul Gatza at the April Craft Brewers Conference.

The two beers released, a barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout and barrel-aged English Barleywine were dubbed “Kill ‘Em All,” and “With Kindness,” respectively. The label on each bottle reads: “To support and defend craft beer from all threats, foreign & domestic, macro and nano. We will strive to accomplish this by producing clean, consistent and imaginative products.” Perrin Co-Founder Jarred Sper elaborated on that telling MLive it speaks to accountability.

“What this will do is cause people to point fingers at us and hold us accountable,” Sper said. “That’s what this is all about.”

In a sense the brewery is setting a standard. But did its beer meet the standard it set out to establish?

Kill ‘Em All

Pouring out an opaque black with an amber hue, this bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout gives off initial whiffs of black licorice, vanilla beans and sawdust. On the palate there are rich, delicate flavors layered under a light blanket of Jameson and water. There’s chunky peanut butter, moist, gooey chocolate cake, vanilla frosting from a can and melted butter mixed with warm brown sugar in the finish.

While the booze is well-noted from start to finish there isn’t much of a burning tail past each gulp making it fairly approachable. However the body is surprisingly thin. It actually reminded me of Rolling Meadow’s Bourbon Barrel Abe’s Ale, which is a brown ale. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if this weren’t a Russian Imperial Stout.

Let it warm in the glass and unearth flavors of marshmallow alongside a distinct oakiness.

With Kindness

The bourbon barrel-aged English Barleywine rests easy in a tulip glass, amber in color and looking more like unsweetened tea than a double-digit ABV beer. The nose is a blend of cream soda, vanilla, raisins and cinnamon. Take a sip and your hit with the sharp burn of two fingers of whiskey that sticks with you through the entire sip and well into the tail.

The booze from the barrel overpowers just about everything else in the glass. There are plums, dates, brown sugar and almonds trying to push past the alcohol but they can’t quite get there.

Much like the above Russian Imperial Stout the body was a bit watery for my liking; not what I would expect from an English Barleywine.

The wax dipped cap was a challenge, evident by the knife and three bottle openers it took to pry it off.

The wax dipped cap was a challenge, evident by the knife and three bottle openers it took to pry it off.

Saying you’re going to brew a series of beers to set the bar for other craft brewers is bold. Barrel-aging those beers is even bolder.

Here’s why:

First off, you can’t really control what happens to that beer once it goes into the barrel. Perhaps your base beer is spot on but once it’s in the barrel, it’s in the barrel.

Secondly, both beers were pretty hot. They could have used some time to rest — maybe just a few months — but a little bit of time nonetheless. Why send out a standard-setting beer for distribution that might turn some people off from the style or the brewer?

And finally, I understand the desire to add barrel aging to these big beers, but I question the need when the stated purpose is “clean” and “imaginative.”

“Clean” is not the flavor profile I picture when barrel-aging enters the fray. I picture rough, ragged, jagged flavors and at this point, desired though they may be, putting beer in a liquor barrel is no longer necessarily “imaginative” — it’s nearly the status quo.

Perrin’s Grapefruit IPA or Raspberry blonde — two great beers during a hot Michigan summer — come closer to that ideal, actually.

Are the Perrin Killing Craft Series beers good? You betcha. Does “Kill ‘Em All” and “With Kindness” reach the bar that Perrin set with the series? Not quite.

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Ryan

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Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.