I enjoy when a brewery starts playing around with using different barrel treatments on the same base beer. The differences are sometimes subtle, but they do emerge in a horizontal tasting. When Gigantic brewing started releasing variants of their most excellent Massive! barleywine, I sought out a couple to see how they’d fare.
Barrel diversity is great, but I’ve never had a beer aged in Port barrels that I loved. Now, I do enjoy a good Port wine, but something about the Port barrel-aged beers I’ve had just never worked for me. In fairness, I haven’t had some of the heavy hitters of the category. I’m looking at you, Damon. Likewise, while I enjoy Rye whiskey from time to time, I often end up feeling like a Rye barrel-aged beer is too similar to Bourbon barrels (and usually not as good).
So I’m happy to report that these variants are awesome. Maybe even better than their Bourbon barrel-aged counterpart. I don’t know what sorcery the Gigantic brewers practiced, but it worked:
Gigantic Massive! Port Barrel-Aged – Pours a turbid, muddy brown color with a solid finger of off white head that doesn’t stick around very long. Smells great, the base caramelized malt character shines through, the oak makes itself known, but the port is lurking more in the background. The taste is all rich caramelized fruit, the port wine is very well integrated with the base here, caramel, toffee, fruit, a little booze. Mouthfeel is still rich and full bodied, maybe not quite as much in the way of booze, but still plenty of alcohol heat, making this a nice little sipper. Overall, this is fantastic. It is, by far, the best Port barrel aged beer I’ve ever had, and at least as good as the standard Bourbon barrel version if not better. A
Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 5/15/20. Vintage: 2019.
Gigantic Massive! Rye Barrel-Aged – This appears similar, but comports itself much more like the bourbon barrel aged version, which is about what you’d expect. I’m not having them side-by-side, so I can maybe talk myself into this having more of a spicy rye note and these variants do seem to be a bit more balanced or integrated… whatever that means… Look, this is a great beer, much like the regular Bourbon version, and I’m really enjoying it. Would highly recommend checking these variants out. It seems like they’ve done a great job with them, but this Rye variant isn’t as distinctive as the Port version, so if you have a choice, I’d go for the Port before this… This is still great, though! A-
Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 5/16/20. Vintage: 2019.
These were both phenomenal and if you see these Gigantic Massive! variants out in the wild, I would highly recommend checking them out. I’d certainly love to try some of the other variants, notably the Cognac (which I find works well with barleywine). Maybe Gigantic even managed to tame the Scotch barrels (or, more likely, they chose a non-Islay/non-peated scotch barrel). Maple barrels are nice, but do tend towards the overly sweet. The Mezcal variant is the only one that seems like a bad idea. But it gets good ratings, so what do I know? I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.