Upland Barrel Chested Barleywine Aged in Willett Bourbon Barrels (9.5% ABV)
Pour: 12 oz. bottle into a snifter
Appearance: Pours a clear mahogany color with about a half inch of thin off-white head that dissipates quickly. Very still once the initial it settles.
Aroma: This smells amazing – a lot of sweet notes like vanilla, toffee, brown sugar, and caramel. Definitely some bourbon in there as well.
Taste: Not quite as complex as the aroma had me expecting. Raisin/date notes up front, sweetness in the middle. Strong alcohol finish that gets even stronger in the aftertaste.
Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, definitely lingers on the tongue.
I love a good barleywine. That being said, barleywines are also a total pain in the ass as a style, because they basically need to be aged for a certain period of time before they’re really drinkable. As a result, most barelywines I’ve ever come across on tap have been too young to really be enjoyable. The same is true for a lot of what you’ll find in bottles, even the ones that are considered world class. Drink a bottle of Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot right after buying it and it’s not very good – there’s the high ABV burn and not a lot else to it. Cellar it for three years and then drink it, though, and it’s one of the best beers you’ll ever have.
All of which is probably just a long-winded way of saying that it’s probably my own fault that I wasn’t blown away by B-town-based Upland Brewing’s Barrel Chested. Since it said on the label that it was barrel-aged, I assumed that meant it would be drinkable right away. You know what they say about assumptions, though. This beer smells fantastic right out of the bottle, but the taste isn’t anywhere nearly as enjoyable as the nose. As with most barleywines that are opened too soon, alcohol dominates the flavor profile, to the point where the finish is almost like drinking straight vodka. The aroma is so good, though, that I immediately went out and picked up another 4-pack and stashed it in the basement – come next winter, I expect the flavor will have caught up to the nose, at which point this beer will likely be a very beautiful thing indeed. As such, I’m not going to give this beer a final grade right now – I’ll review it again once it’s had a chance to age.