The color of beer mostly has to do with how malt is produced. Barley is soaked in water, allowing it to germinate, and then heat is applied to stop germination. The higher the heat, the darker the malt. The darker the malt, duh, the darker the resulting beer. Pale malts still represent most of the malt used. You don’t need a ton of darker malt to make the beer dark, but pale malt by itself isn’t especially tasty. The flavors of pale beers come from hops or maybe the yeast used (or maybe they’ve got an intentionally muted flavor profile.)
Obviously there are other adjuncts that can change the color of beer (i.e brightly colored fruit like cherries, dark sugars, etc…), but another thing that could be done is an excessively long boil time. Most worts are boiled for 60-90 minutes, but that can be significantly increased. Longer boil times results in darker, more concentrated wort and the creation of melanoidins (think browned foods like grilled meats or bread crusts). In other words, long boil times results in a sorta caramelization of the wort.
Enter Gigantic Brewing’s Massive! This is a barleywine brewed with British Golden Promise malt (a pale base malt) that’s been boiled for 8 hours, resulting in a rather dark colored beer. Age it in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels for two years, and that adds tons of complementary flavors of caramel, oak, and vanilla. My kinda bwizzle #BiL.
Gigantic has been around since 2012 and is considered one of the best Portland, Oregon breweries (in a town known for breweries, that’s saying something) and they’re known for their eclectic experimentation. They are apparently well known for their artwork too, which seems to reflect their brand pretty well. Let’s take a look at this beer that lives up to the brewery’s moniker:
Gigantic Massive! Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine – Pours a murky brown color with barely a ring of head around the edges of the glass. Smells great, caramel, toffee, dark fruit, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is full of rich caramel, toffee, a bit of dark fruit, and lots of boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, with some bitterness balancing out the finish. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, but not flabby or underattenuated, light on the carbonation (but well matched to style), warming booze. Overall, yep, it’s a reeel gud bba barleywine. A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/31/18. Vintage: 2018.
I’ve also had Gigantic’s Most Most Premium Russian Imperial Stout, which was quite nice and probably should have been reviewed here. I shall endeavor to do better in the future.