Stillwater Folklore – The Tale Of Van Winkle

The tale of this beer begins back at Stillwater’s first anniversary, when they made a Belgian Strong Dark in the mold of a foreign export stout. That beer was called 25 To One, and has since been tweaked a bit, renamed Folklore, and moved into Stillwater’s regular lineup. In addition, this is one of the base beers for their barrel aging program, and several different versions have been made. What I have here is a beer aged in 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. Only 1200 bottles made, a steep price tag, and a gorgeous minimalist label, but alas, I found myself a little disappointed by the contents of said bottle:

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale of Van Winkle

Stillwater Folklore – The Tale Of Van Winkle – Pours a very dark, almost black color with a skimpy, light brown head. Smell is all about bourbon and oak (maybe some coconut from the barrel aging too), with just the faintest hint of roasted malts. Similarly, the taste is comprised mostly of bourbon, with oak falling into the background and whatever roasty smoke character exists is almost completely muted. The bourbon doesn’t feel like it’d be overpowering either, but it’s really the flavor that is emphasized the most here. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin for a barrel aged brew, well carbonated, some boozy burn from the bourbon. Overall, while certainly not a bad brew, it’s a bit disappointing. Bourbon is the star here, with the base beer contributing little. I like me some bourbon, but this just isn’t balanced very well and the base beer doesn’t seem to stand up to the barrel aging process very well… B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/12.

Opinions on BA and Ratebeer seem to be wildly divergent, but I’m definitely not the only one who thought the bourbon overpowered the base beer. I still like Stillwater quite a bit, and some of their other barrel aged beers seem to have a better reputation, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for those.

4 thoughts on “Stillwater Folklore – The Tale Of Van Winkle”

  1. I had a dram of Pappy Van Winkle 15 at a friend’s…it was pretty amazing, but I don’t like the price tag or the super-hype around it. There are some pretty amazing bourbons for a hell of a lot less money that aren’t so hard to come by =/

    It’s been a bit since I’ve had a bourbon aged beer, so my taste memory is fuzzy…is it that distinctive that using a particular bourbon would be noticeable? I don’t ever remember tasting anything other than…well, bourbon-y notes.

    Still, the variety of cool wood aging and finishes in beer, scotch, even bourbon nowadays is pretty amazing.

  2. “is it that distinctive that using a particular bourbon would be noticeable?”

    I don’t know that people can pick out what bourbon was used by tasting the beer aged in said bourbon’s barrels, but my understanding is that brewers should use quality bourbon. This makes sense, of course, as you’re basically adding a small proportion of bourbon to the beer (along with the oak, etc…), so you’d better make sure that you have good bourbon.

    Obviously, there are lots of other factors. What’s the base beer like and how well does that match with the bourbon? What’s the condition of the barrel? There’s a bunch of other stuff that also impacts it.

    But the general rule seems to be: quality bourbon in, quality beer out. PVW seems to garner a lot of hype. A few years ago, Goose Island aged a small amount of their Bourbon County Brand Stout in 23 year old PVW barrels, and it’s apparently one of the most sought after beers. I’ve seen lots of Heaven Hill, Elijah Craig, Woodford Reserve, and Four Roses, probably a handful of others too. PVW ones tend to be rated highly (even when not advertised as such), but I suspect that the differences aren’t that big and are more dependent on how well the base beer matches the barrel/bourbon. Probably not a lot of people use Old Crow, though.

    I will say that a lot of scotch aged stuff doesn’t fare as well, especially if you’re using Islay Scotches. That smokey peat flavor really tends to overwhelm the beer. I’ve had ones that work really well, but others that were a disaster.

    I’m seeing a much larger variety of barrels used for beer these days, which is interesting. I still think bourbon works best for stouts and barleywines, but some of these other things are interesting too. Definitely a very cool development. If a little hard on the wallet!

  3. Thanks for the link! And I agree with your assessment even though me trying it came after about 5 other beers. Good to know I wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t a bad beer by any means, but it definitely felt like all bourbon to me. For the cost, I would have felt a little let down if I had paid it.

  4. It was definitely an expensive bottle, especially for a 375 ml offering. Perhaps comparable with some of the Port/Lost Abbey BA stuff, which is pretty darn expensive, though I’ve generally thought the Port/LA stuff is worth it. I don’t think this BA Folklore was…


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