DuClaw Retribution

Due to the inherent variability in aging beer, most barrel aged liquids are actually blended together before bottling time. Those angels are thirsty, but they don’t drink equally from each barrel, not to mention that moron Randy from Accounting1 who is constantly trying to sneak a sample of your latest barrel aged brew.

This is generally the case with anything aged in barrels. Some of the complexity in Scotch comes from the fact that different barrel types and ages are blended together into the final product. Of course, there are beers that are all about the blend too, like Gueuzes, and there are others that are blends of completely different beers (a la Firestone Anniversary beers). But even your lowly, garden-variety bourbon barrel aged stout gets some blending love (i.e. the contents of each barrel are combined into one mass) before bottling, thus evening out the batch and ensuring some form of consistency.

Naturally, there are exceptions. I have a bottle of Balvenie 15 that is utterly superb, but that’s a Scotch bottled from single barrels. No blending. They don’t even claim consistency and actually use the variability as a selling point: “Each bottle is unique and unrepeatable.” This appears to be DuClaw’s strategy for Retribution, a single barrel bourbon aged imperial stout. Let’s see how that turned out for them.

DuClaw Retribution

DuClaw Retribution – Pours a very dark amber brown that pretty much looks black once poured out, with half a finger of light brown head. Smells strongly of bourbon, with some vanilla, caramel, and oak asserting themselves. The taste is extremely sweet, with plenty of that bourbon and vanilla character, some caramel, a little chocolate, and plenty of sticky booze in the finish. Mouthfeel is sticky, medium bodied, boozy, a little light on carbonation (but just barely enough to make this palatable). Maybe a bit on the cloying side as I near the end of the bottle. Overall, it’s a fine barrel aged beer, but not among the top tier. I wonder if it would have been better fresh (or if barrel 8 was a dud). B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV?2 bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/4/12. Label sez: Date in Barrel: 03/11/2011. Date Out of Barrel: 09/19/2011. Barrel No. 08 of 20.

So I like DuClaw and ultimately enjoyed this, but they’re no Balvenie. Despite the assumed variability, I’m not sure I want to pick up other bottles of this, though I wouldn’t mind sampling it if I ever end up in one of their brewpubs or something. Also, they apparently make something called Divine Retribution which is a blend of Retribution and their massive 21% ABV Colossus. Yikes.

1 – If you are reading this post and your name is Randy, I apologize. Obviously I don’t mean you. No Randys were harmed in the composition of this post.

2 – The bottle I have in front of me right now sez 9% ABV, Beer Advocate and Ratebeer say 10.5%, and DuClaw’s website clocks it at 11.5%. Perhaps barrel 8 really did suck and only came in at 9%, or this 2011 batch came in lower than expected or something.

4 thoughts on “DuClaw Retribution”

  1. I’m pretty sure the major reason blending occurs is for consistency and not really because of the Angel’s Share. It also shows that blending is a science just like brewing since it’s super difficult.

    At least DuClaw labels their bottles for each batch. That way if you find one you really like, you can possibly buy it again. There have been other breweries that have huge bottle variation but you don’t know what batch you’re buying so can’t repeat that purchase.

    Also, the Divine Retribution sounds awesome but it was $30+ and only available nearish DuClaw. Ah well.

    Oh and the issue with the ABV could simply be that this year’s stout came in at a different ABV than other year’s. Ratebeer and BeerAdvocate don’t always adjust the ABV every year even if changes. I was going to use Bourbon County as an example, but, well, they already updated the ABV. But I swear they don’t always!

  2. My impression of the Angel’s Share is that evaporation is inconsistent across barrels, and thus the ABV across barrels can vary, which is partly why they blend the contents of the barrels at the end. I’m certainly no expert, but that was my impression. I also read that some brewers have a portion of “young” beer ready to go at bottling in case the oak (or whatever) was too strong. Totally agree about the blending being a science thing…

    I love the label, both from a design, and an informational standpoint. Breweries seem to be getting better about dating their bottles, but there are still many that do not.

    Yeah, both Divine Retribution and Colossus seem to be in the $30 range. I’ve seen bottles of Colossus around, but I don’t think I’d buy unless the price came down…

    It’s really weird though, if you look at Beerpulse, they have a label/story from this same batch, but a similar discrepancy appears: 9% on the label, 11.5% in the press release. Weird.

  3. The comment about Angel’s Share is true for liquor being held for many, many years. I don’t believe it’s true for beer that was only sitting for 8 months – 1 year. I’m not even sure it’s true for something sitting for 2 years. It takes a long time for the Angel’s Share to evaporate enough to cause a change in ABV. As far as everything I know, barrel aging doesn’t affect ABV all that much. However, I don’t know 100% so take it with a grain of salt.

    I do know the major reason to blend barrels together is for consistency though. And yeah blending in some fresh beer will lessen the impact of the barrel aging for sure.

  4. Interesting, I think this warrants further investigation! Maybe I’ll tie one on this week and send out some emails to breweries and ask them what’s up. Most info on the internets seems to indicate about 2% a year lost to Angel’s Share, but I’m sure that’s an average that might be more heavily weighted towards later years and there’s a lot of variables to consider (size/surface area, humidity, temperature, air currents, etc…) I’ll be curious to see if any of these breweries would respond to such an in-depth question…


Leave a Comment