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Two Loaded Barrels 

Side by side, these beers are a total blast

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MIKE RIEDEL
  • Mike Riedel

Level Crossing - Barrel-Aged Red Sea Rift: A portion of Level Crossing's 2021's Red Sea Rift spent the last year lounging in High West Distillery's Bourye barrels. The coffee-forward Imperial Stout's flavors were bound to be complex, but I had no idea how transformative it could possibly be.

Color is an oily midnight black; the pour produces a moderate amount of bubbles and a decent finger of tan head that fades into a thin creamy layer. A very roasty and rich dark malt-driven aroma emerges, with huge hints of coffee, chocolate and bourbon, followed by a big upfront scent of coffee beans, dark roasted barley malt, hints of dark chocolate, burnt toast, smoke, biscuit, caramel and yeast. You get a notable barrel presence, with hints of bourbon whiskey, vanilla, oak and wood. A sweet scent of molasses sugars rounds things out, along with subtle, dark fruit hints of cherry and prune. A really great smell.

Like the nose indicates, there's a very rich and roasty dark malt-driven taste with lots of coffee, chocolate and bourbon, plus bitter dark roast coffee beans. Dark roasted barley malt with big notes of dark chocolate, biscuit, toast, toffee, caramel, smoke and yeast all tickle the tongue. Notes of bourbon whiskey, sweet vanilla, wood and oak continue that barrel presence. The sweet taste of molasses emerges along with some tobacco, anise and subtle dark fruit undertones of cherry, raisin and prune—a great roasty taste. It's thick and full bodied with a moderate amount of carbonation—creamy, syrupy and fairly chewy. The 10.0 percent alcohol percentage is masked pretty well.

Verdict: This truly great barrel-aged coffee stout delivers a great blend of coffee, chocolate and bourbon barrel flavors with a body that is thick but still drinkable. I was glad to finally try this after striking out on the bottles for the last few years.

TF - Triple Brett: A lot of people have been anticipating this beer, as Templin Family Brewery's head honcho and beer guru Kevin Templin has built a reputation over the years with barrel-aged sour beers from his time at Red Rock Brewing. This first offering from TF's barrel program is quite different from anything previously done in either brewhouse, and comes off funky and bright.

On first pour, it's a deep, dark red color, but settles into the glass looking like a dark ale. The aroma presents straight up-big hits of cherry, but there are also funky sour notes looming among the cherry.

The taste is tart, not sour, but it's evened out right away with just enough sweetness to balance the tart. It sort of tastes like one of those SunRype fruit leather things, infused in a fruity dark lager. There's a fruity sweetness, but perhaps not just cherries. Some oaky notes appear here as well, with more funky tartness exerting its influence. There's a moderate carbonation to the brew as it's bottle conditioned (naturally carbonated).

Verdict: If you're new to beer and looking to experiment with something on the tart and fruity side of things, this could be one of the nicer and more complex options for you. The cherry is sweet, but not medicinal, and the natural tartness from the brettanomyces oak aging can make it approachable while maintaining its complexities. The 8.3 percent alcohol isn't too noticeable, but you will feel it if you bogart the whole bottle.

For a limited release, TF did manage to make quite a few bottles of this funky barrel sour, but with the holidays around the corner, this will be one of those in-demand beers. Same goes for Barrel-Aged Red Sea Rift: Plenty was packaged, but this will be another one of those special holiday treats. As always, cheers!

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