Cape May Boughs of Barley 2018: Scotch Whisky

Tonight’s beer is one that I really was interesting in trying. Let’s see how it was.

ABV: 11.1%

Style: American Double/Imperial Stout

Trivia: According to the brewery website, “‘Boughs of Barley has always been a fun and experimental route for us,’ says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm, ‘playing around with rarer styles of giant, spirit barrel-aged beers, and it’s always taken us in new directions.’ Our first iteration back in 2016 was a bourbon barrel-aged, bottle-conditioned barleywine that nearly broke the B key on our keyboard. Last year, we tried our hand at a Belgian dark ale aged in Cognac and Bourbon barrels. ‘I love variants,’ says Head Brewer Brian Hink, ‘and with big, barrel-aged beers, that’s a really fun playground to be in, but when we first started talking about doing Boughs of Barley I didn’t want to just do the standard vanilla, coconut, coffee, etc. variants, but instead let the barrel act as an ingredient and be the variant itself.’ So, this time around, we’ve been aging an Imperial stout in Cognac and Scotch Whisky barrels — the Cognac for about a year, the Scotch for 18 months. ‘When we first did Boughs of Barley,’ Brian says, ‘we wanted to let the barrels be the built-in variant, with the loose idea that the new barrel this year becomes the second-use next year when a new spirit type is brought in.’ ‘I’ve always liked to see what we can come up with through our barrel program,’ says Lab Manager Lauren Appleman. ‘This years’ Boughs of Barley lean to the dark side with two very different final products coming off of a good Imperial Stout base. The character of the barrels really shows through in each version.’ Last year was the first run with those beautiful Cognac barrels, so we were sure that they’d be up for refilling this year, and Jimmy has been wanting to barrel age using Scotch barrels since… well… since he’s known about both barrel aging and Scotch. ‘I lived in Scotland for four years and fell in love with Scotch,’ he explains, ‘which has more variation in flavor than Bourbon or American Whiskey, or even Irish Whiskey. There are sweet ones that were aged in ex-Sherry or ex-Port barrels, smokey ones that were made from barley dried out over smoldering piles of peat, and smooth ones that have been distilled an extra time to make a gentler spirit. The smokey ones are my favorite, and we managed to get our hands on some barrels from my favorite distillery out on Islay, the home of the peat-monster whiskies.’ Spending 18 months in those barrels, the Scotch version definitely picked up a great deal of the smokiness as well as a good bit of oakiness. When married with the rich chocolate overtones of the stout and the roasty flavors of the dark malts, the Scotch variant comes through with a great deal of complexity. ‘The guys on production who enjoy Scotch really enjoy this beer,’ Brian says. ‘It’s definitely peaty — or smokey — and that is the dominant characteristic out of the gate. The underlying Stout body and character are present and are big enough to withstand the barrage from the barrel’s character. The resulting beer is very intense.’ On the other hand, the Cognac variant is a little more subtle, a little more reserved. There was still quite a bit of life left in those barrels, but, as second-use barrels (for us, anyway), the lion’s share of the Cognac character was imparted to last year’s Boughs of Barley.”

Random: I have never been to Cape May Brewery.

The beer poured with a three finger tan head. It took awhile to dissipate and left a lot of lacing on the glass. The body was a dark brown with some visible carbonation. The nose was filled with smoke. There wasn’t much else except lots and lots of roasted malts and smoke. The taste was a lot of smoke and roasted malts. There was some dark chocolate as well, but there was so much peat and smoke, to the point of being overwhelming. Vanilla came through after a few sips. The booze made an appearance as well. The body was thick and chewy. The finish was lengthy with smoke. I thought this beer was alright, but needed to sit for awhile. I wouldn’t rush to have this again.

Untappd Rating: 3.5/5.0

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