New Year’s Eve. It is a holiday that I normally spend going out with a bunch of friends to a fancy, semi-formal event. This year, though, I am spending the holiday at the cabin in the mountains outside Asheville, NC that my in-laws recently purchased. After an 8-hour road trip and a slightly scary trek 4,000 feet up the mountain, we arrived.
And we caught the last minute or so of sunset.
Of course, since it was a special occasion, I enjoyed New Year’s with a few rare and vintage beers with the family. We started on Tuesday night, when my sister-in-law and her husband (who just so happens to be a close friend) stopped in on the way down to NC. The first beer we cracked was a local one from Hardywood, and a variant of one I have already had this winter season.
Hardywood Bourbon Barrel Gingerbread Stout
Producer: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery; Richmond, VA
Beer Name: Bourbon Barrel Gingerbread Stout
Style: Imperial Stout; Spiced Beer
Price Range: $20 / bottle (750 ml)
Appearance: Solid black with healthy, foamy off-white head
Aroma: Lots of gingerbread, hint of bourbon
Virginia Pour House Review: I first tasted Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout at SAVOR in DC last May, but this version was aged in bourbon barrels. The base beer is damn near perfection in a spiced beer, so I was a little nervous to taste this one for fear that the bourbon took something away from this fantastic beer. The beer pours the same as the base, very dark brown with a foamy tan head. The aroma is still mostly gingerbread, with just a hint of bourbon underneath. The taste is also still a lot of gingerbread, with perfectly blended notes of bourbon. The sweetness from the gingerbread blends perfectly with the slight bitterness of the bourbon and does not take anything away from the base beer. I am a little surprised by how much gingerbread is left here and I expected more bourbon, but overall this is a fantastic beer and I like it better than the original. I am not sure how the ABV goes up by 1.4% over the original either, but this one claims to be 10.6% when the original is 9.2%. The mouthfeel is a little thicker and milkier than the original, but this is a welcome addition since the original felt a little thin. This has more the feel of a milk stout and it coats the palate better than the original. Hardywood is on the rise and their Barrel Series has so far been very good.
Next up was an imperial stout from a new brewery in California.
FiftyFifty Brewing Eclipse Imperial Stout (Buffalo Trace)
Producer: FiftyFifty Brewing Company; Truckee, CA
Beer Name: Eclipse Imperial Stout (Buffalo Trace)
Style: Imperial Stout
Price Range: $35 / bottle (22 oz)
Appearance: Solid black, foamy tan head
Aroma: Dark malt, cocoa, whiskey, faint honey sweetness
Virginia Pour House Review: FiftyFifty is making waves with the Eclipse Imperial Stout series, with each one aged differently. This one was aged in Buffalo Trace whiskey barrels. The beer pours a solid black with a small, foamy, tan head. The aroma is strong with dark malts with notes of cocoa and whiskey and faint undertones of honey. There is some light bitterness from the dark malts and cocoa, with coffee notes and nice blend of whiskey in the middle. There is some boozy bitterness from the whiskey but this blends nicely with the dark chocolate and cocoa notes. I also got a very faint sweetness from the honey; it is almost indistinguishable at first but these notes become stronger the more I sip. The beer has a nice mouthfeel; it is not too thin and there is very little bitterness in the aftertaste. This is a very solid stout from FiftyFifty, but the price tag makes it a questionable purchase.
Then came the New Year’s beers.
Wicked Weed Divergence (Royal Cache Series)
Producer: Wicked Weed Brewing Company; Asheville, NC
Beer Name: Divergence (Royal Cache Series)
Style: American Sour Porter
Price Range: $?? / bottle (500 ml)
Appearance: Black with hint of brown, slightly clear with a tan head
Aroma: Red wine, bourbon, sour, hint of coffee and cocoa
Virginia Pour House Review: This is an interesting beer. It is classified as an American Barrel Aged Sour Porter. The beer was aged in red wine barrels and fermented with Brettanomyces for 8 months, then blended into dry-pressed coffee. It pours almost completely black but there’s a hint brown in the light with a nice tan head. The aroma is complex, with a strong sourness with red wine notes. Beneath that is a hint of bourbon and oak with very faint coffee underneath. At first taste, there is a pretty strong sourness, but subsequent sips are a bit smoother. This beer is incredibly complex, with lots of sourness from the fruit and red wine, some subtle bitterness from the bourbon barrel aging, and just a hint of coffee and bitter cocoa in the finish. The longer I drink this beer, the better it gets. Fine work from Wicked Weed.
Victory Dark Intrigue (2011)
Producer: Victory Brewing Company; Downingtown, PA
Beer Name: Dark Intrigue (2011)
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Price Range: $15 / bottle (750 ml)
Appearance: Solid black, cloudy with foamy tan head
Aroma: Oak, bourbon, hint of cocoa
Virginia Pour House Review: The grand finale is a beer that I first had three years ago at the Dark Wednesday event at Victory in Downingtown. The beer is Dark Intrigue, a Russian Imperial Stout aged in oak bourbon barrels. Victory hasn’t brewed this one since 2011, so this one is three years old. Fresh on tap, this beer was fantastic, but it lost a little from the bottle. I remember this beer being finnicky when it comes to tasting temperature. Too cold or too warm and it’s not nearly as enjoyable. This one was chilled by the outdoors so we ended up drinking it at near-perfect temperature. It poured a solid black with a foamy tan head. The aroma is all oak and bourbon, with a subtle hint of cocoa. The beer was surprisingly smooth but that is to be expected given the three years of aging. This beer had a harsh bourbon booziness when it was fresh, but that is gone now. Instead, it is like sipping a fine bourbon, smooth throughout with beautiful oak notes and a slightly chocolatey middle and finish. I have drank this beer a couple times in the last three years and it just gets better with age. I wish I had another to save for next New Year’s, but alas, this was the last one. If you happen to spot this one in the wild, I would highly recommend it.
Outside of the above beers, I sampled some of the local brews from the Asheville area. I’ll be going on a tour of some of the local breweries here in Asheville on Friday, so I’ll report back later!
Hardywood Bourbon Barrel Gingerbread Stout - 98
FiftyFifty Eclipse Imperial Stout (Buffalo Trace) - 95
Wicked Weed Divergence - 94
Victory Dark Intrigue (2011) - 100
Virginia Pour House Review
These rare and vintage beers were a great way to ring in a new year.