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New barleywine-style offerings 

Bewilder and Kiitos bring the malty sweetness

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MIKE RIEDEL
  • Mike Riedel

Bewilder - Double ESB: Somewhat dense and rich to the eye, its hazy appearance allows for a soft, dimly-lit glow. As a patient sheet of ivory-white foam emerges, the froth is tightly woven as the ale speckles the glass with random lace. As with many strong ales, the foam eventually succumbs to its power, and reverts to a port-like appearances. Its aromas are caramel-sweet and backed by fruit flavors of apple, orange, cherry and grape. The bourbon influence piles on with unmistakable drunken vanilla and maple, giving the ale a candied scent of hard maple candy and marzipan.

Upon tasting, any notion of ESB is lost. However, more barleywine flavors coat the palate with shortbread and caramel. Hedging on toffee, its maple, honey and marmalade flavors saturate the sweet tooth, especially when the fruit flavors of orange, peach, apple and grape complement the mix. Its slow-fading sweetness is sliced by all those barrel contributions of wood spice, vanilla and coconut. The beer's rich body is unwavering as its dense confection texture lingers on. The absence of dryness extends indefinitely with butter rum, pecan, maple and bourbon. Warm in its finish, this 10.3 percent ale is a welcome after-dinner sipper.

Verdict: Where any beer of such immense alcohol content and malt balances would easily classify as a barleywine, the only glimmers of ESB are its biscuity sweetness and body, and its ester-y fruit contributions. I would like to see the ale back off to about eight percent, and better demonstrate those classic ESB flavors.

Kiitos - Imperial Barleywine: Smells of honey up front are followed by toffee, caramel, brown sugar, fruit candy (like Gummi Bears), honeydew melon, orange peel, graham cracker, fresh floral hops and sweet malt. The toffee is incredibly strong yet not overly sweet, completely hiding the high ABV but also basically blocking out most of the hop fragrance. It gets much better and fruitier as it warms, with apricot and white wine notes coming through.

It tastes basically like it smells, but with more booze and malt influence in the flavor. Like the nose, it tastes of toffee up front, strong honey that's mead-like, followed by toffee, caramel, maple syrup, brown sugar, Belgian sugar, fruity candy (again like Gummi Bears, or maybe Razzles), honeydew melon, orange, red grapefruit, graham cracker, toasted grains, fresh floral hops, booze like dark rum and sweet malt. It's not cloying or overly sweet, but hides the ABV while also letting the toffee and caramel come through for that English barleywine essence. Like the aroma the barrel aging is trailing, and much like the finale, saving the best accents for last with a display of light, smoked malt or peat moss and cake notes with a whole bunch of earthiness.

After the smell and taste, the mouthfeel is about where I expected it: smooth and on the thin side as it slides down easily, with a medium body and mild carbonation. Surprisingly, this 15.6 percent ale has medium heat, a little bitterness and a solid malt base as advertised, which created a dynamic and interesting slow sipper.

Verdict: This beer seems just above average—until the cake-like flavors come through at the end of the aroma and flavor, like a superhero swooping in to save the day and make it really damn tasty. Obviously, that can be attributed to the warming of the brew, but the change as it warmed really made it very easy to drink and extremely enjoyable.

Sadly, big beers still come in big cans. Both of these ales are packaged in 16-ounce cans, so edit your travel intentions if you plan on going solo with these. As always, cheers!

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