Gigantic Massive! Variants

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! aged in Port Barrels

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! aged in Rye Barrels

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.

Remus’ Revenge 10 & 2

The one and only time I’ve been to Cincinnati was during a layover at their airport, whereupon I learned that it’s the city “where pigs fly.” It’s a reference to the infamous pork-packing industry that was so prevalent in the town that it gained the nickname “Porkopolis.”

A Flying Pig

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s worth noting that Cincinnati was also a well known beer town. Naturally, that did not survive prohibition, but the recent craft beer boom has swelled the ranks of breweries to pre-prohibition numbers and beyond.

I took a flyer on a few bottles of Fifty West’s barrel aged barleywine 10 & 2, but came away with more questions. Just who is this Remus and why does he seek revenge? My chain smoking monkey research squad was unable to unearth any answers, so we went direct to the source to get the skinny:

Our Remus’ Revenge series is all based around George Remus, the “King of Bootleggers”. Remus made an empire running alcohol on Route 50, which goes from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California (and the road our brewery is located here in Cincy)! George Remus was allegedly the inspiration for Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book, hosting lavish parties in his mansion “Marble Palace”, which is another one of our BBA beers in the series. He famously murdered his wife here in Cincinnati in a very popular park after she left Remus and filed for divorce, leading to our “Ghost of Imogene” BBA Imperial Stout. Our “Death Valley Shootout” BBA Stout tells the story of a fire fight that took place at Remus’ Death Valley Farm, one of his fortified distilleries. We just released “Six Feet Under” BBA English Barleywine referencing his death and burial in Bourbon country right across the river from Cincinnati in Kentucky. 10&2 is our award winning (gold from WBC and silver from GABF) BBA American Barleywine that kick-started our barrel aged beer series but actually doesn’t have any Remus lore tied in with it!

Many thanks to Fifty West’s no doubt beleaguered social media manager for responding to my no-doubt annoying inquires. Anyway, so now there’s three more beers in their barrel aged series that I’ll need to track down. In the meantime, I’ll have to make do with this more American take on the barleywine style, aged in bourbon barrels.

Fifty West Remus Revenge 10 and 2

Fifty West Remus’ Revenge Series 10 & 2 Barleywine Aged In Bourbon Barrels – Pours a murky brown color with half a finger of off white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells nice, lots of toffee, caramel, bourbon, and oak, some of that faded hop quality that indicates the American Barleywine base… Taste hits a lot of those notes from the nose, that dank, faded hop character coming to the fore quickly but yielding to the caramel, toffee and barrel character before reasserting some bitterness in the finish along with a heaping helping of booze. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and well carbed with a boozy bite and a bit of heat too. Overall, this is some tasty stuff and the barrel aging clearly took some of the bite off the highly hopped base, making for a damn solid BA Barleywine. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (12 ounce waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 4/26/20. Vintage: 2019.

Certainly seems like a brewery that would be nice to visit if we weren’t all holed up in our homes during a pandemic in an election year. The same year in which some geniuses discovered these mystery death seeds from China and thought Hey, let’s plant these suckers; what’s the worst that could happen? Sorry, what was I talking about? Oh, right, beer.

Parish Royal Earth

It appears that the pastry menace has spread its dark influence to barleywines. Alright, fine, I appreciate the occasional pastry stout, those high-double-digit ABV, low attenuation, barrel-aged confections with all manner of candy-like adjuncts added. However, as I’ve often noted, I inevitably wonder what the pastry stout would be like without all the bells and whistles. So it’s a little disconcerting to see the excesses of the pastry stout make their way to the staid, dignified world of barleywine.

On the other hand, lord help me, I really enjoyed the hell out of this thing. Parish Royal Earth is a big ol’ barleywine aged in Apple Brandy barrels for 16 months before conditioning on a bed of crushed roasted pecans with Korintje Cinnamon and Madagascar Vanilla. It’s basically a liquid apple pie. Parish is best known for their most excellent Ghost in the Machine DIPA, but if this is any indication, their strong ale game is on point as well.

Parish Royal Earth

Parish Royal Earth – Pours a clear but dense, very dark amber brown color, almost black once it’s fully poured, with half a finger of off white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the glass. Smells great, tons of apple and pecan aromas, some cinnamon and vanilla adding a pie-like sensibility. The taste starts very sweet, loads of caramel and toffee, apple pie quickly kicking in, finishing off with oak and vanilla. Less pecan in the taste than the nose, but it’s still pretty intense and complex stuff. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, moderate carbonation is well calibrated for the beer, and there’s some pleasant boozy heat at this party too. Overall, this is pretty fabulous stuff. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml waxed). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/18/20. Vintage 2020.

I had originally planned a trip to New Orleans in March and while the brewery’s not particularly close by, I was hoping I could maybe sneak a bottle or two of something strange like this back with me. Unfortunately, a global pandemic put the breaks on that particular trip, so who knows when I’ll be able to snag more rarities from Parish.

Mason B.A. Baracus

I’ve been known to read a bit too much into the name of a beer, often positing obscure pop culture references that are almost certainly untrue (though sometimes I’m correct). Because it’s fun and I’m the worst, that’s why. Anyway, in this case, it’s hard to avoid the obvious: this beer is named after a butterfly. More precisely, Baracus is a genus of grass skippers, or butterflies of the subfamily Hesperiinae. What I’m saying is that Mason Ale Works are closet lepidopterists and certainly not fans of a classic 80s television show about a crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit.

Alright, fine, it’s named after Mr. T’s character from the A-Team. Are you happy now? Fine then. Believe it or not, the initials “B.A.” actually have several possible meanings. It’s most frequently translated to “Bad Attitude”, but it also stands for “Bosco Albert” (his real name), and while this one isn’t canon, Mr. T has indicated that it could stand for “Born Again” (in terms of his Christian faith).

In context of this beer, B.A. also stands for “Barrel-Aged” – this barleywine spent over a year in bourbon and Cutwater single malt whiskey barrels (presumably that’s Devil’s Share American Whiskey). Cutwater is a venture started by the founder and master brewer of Ballast Point (after BP sold out to megacorp Constellation), so it appears Mason Ale Works wanted to support their former rivals by purchasing some barrels. Or perhaps they share an interest in lepidopterology. Um, whatever the case, let’s get to the good stuff. By which I mean… tasting notes that will make your eyes gloss over.

Mason B.A. Baracus

Mason Ale Works B.A. Baracus – Pours a muddy dark brown color with a half finger of head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells great, lots of caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some resinous hops lurking in the background. Taste is sweet, toffee, caramel, that bourbon, oak, and vanilla, some of that resinous hop character too. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, moderate carbonation, plenty of booze. Overall, yup fantastic little BA barleywine. It’s got some of that American Barleywine hoppiness to it, but it’s well incorporated. I want to say that it’s reminiscent of Mother of All Storms, but I had these beers far enough apart that I can’t be sure. Gonna have to get fresh bottles/cans of each to do a proper comparison. Ultimately, both are pretty great and worth seeking out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/20. Vintage: Limited Edition 2018.

Yet another fine barleywine, I’m steadily making progress on my backlog of reviews (this is the last one from before quarantine times), so stay tuned. We’ve got some more barleywine, some stouts, and more local cans of IPAs and Pilsners coming your way.

Revolution Straight Jacket

This beer has emerged as one of those fabled barleywines that nonetheless remains somewhat accessible (at least, if you live in Chicago). It’s clearly a staple of the DDB all-barleywine diet, and he’s been talking this thing up since it first hit shelves (it won his pretty stacked blind BBA Barleywine tasting challenge too, though that was a while ago at this point and some of the competition has stepped up their game for sure). Its popularity has begotten numerous variants, including the inimitable VSOJ (Very Special Old Jacket, a blend of barleywines aged 2-3 years in bourbon barrels), which is decidedly less accessible, though you’ll still find members of the Barleywine is Life group shotgunning cans of the stuff on a semi-regular basis because they’re demented.

What we have here today is the regular old Straight Jacket, a barleywine aged around a year in bourbon barrels and packaged in 12 ounce cans (not a typical treatment for this sort of offering, but I suppose that’s changing thanks to the market for people wanting to chug/shotgun barleywines, which is surprisingly high (I mean, more than one or two is surprisingly high but still)). So let’s dislocate our shoulders in order to gain the slack necessary to escape our… oh, wait, sorry, that’s the other straight jacket. Let’s, uh, just drink this one:

Revolution Straight Jacket

Revolution Straight Jacket – Pours a bright, clear brownish amber color with a finger of off-white head. Smells nice, crystal malt, dark fruit, toffee, caramel, oak, vanilla. Taste is sweet, dark fruit, toffee, you know what I said about the smell? That’s how it tastes. Barrel character is well integrated and doesn’t overwhelm at all. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well carbed, good balance. Overall, yup, fantastic little barleywine. Years of hype have perhaps taken a toll, but it’s totally something I’d stock up on if it were feasible. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/3/20. Canned: 01-04-19.

Certainly a worthy member of the barleywine canon, one that I think I’ll need to track down again. And again. And maybe some of the variants. And compare to stuff like Arctic Devil, Object Permanence, etc… Only time will tell. Stay tuned, for we’ve actually got a couple other barlewines in the review pipeline #BiL.

Anchorage Endless Ending

One of these days, I’ll write a post covering the trials and tribulations of A Deal with the Devil, the ultra-hyped barleywine made by Anchorage. I’ve managed to finagle my way into a few tastes of that stuff and I’ll be damned (pun intended!) if it doesn’t live up to the hype. Well, mostly. Not, like, $1000 a bottle supernatural hype, but, like, normal earthly hype. To get a bottle for my lonesome, I’ll likely need to make my way to the crossroads and make my own deal with the devil. Fortunately, I have connections: demons, imps, ghouls, politicians, goblins, bureaucrats, zombies, Chinese hopping vampires, and of course, other beer nerds. It will happen someday (assuming we’re not still in the middle of a pandemic and in quarantine mode), but in the meantime, this newish offering is readily available and tangentially related (for, uh, certain definitions of “readily available” that include lots of cash).

Endless Ending is a blend of A Deal With the Devil (the aforementioned barrel-aged barleywine) and Darkest Hour (a barrel aged imperial stout) that has been aged for 18 months in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon barrels, then again in Missouri Oak foudres for an additional 3 Months. Unlike the last blend of beers I covered, this one seems more harmonious. Slap one of those fabulous WolfSkullJack labels on there and dip the cap in copious amounts of white wax, and you’ve got a very attractive package. Speaking of the art, I found this interview with the artist, and she talks about her general style and this label in particular:

Endless Ending is at the moment the only custom piece that Anchorage has purchased! They specifically wanted Dall sheep to proudly represent Alaska, and it was Gabe Fletcher’s idea to have the human skeletons inside the sheep to reflect previous can art, like “Within Us” and “Origin”. … The human skeletons inside of animals theme is a reoccurring image of mine because I like to explore the hostile relationship between man and the natural world within my artwork.

Neat, and the end result looks great. Of course, it’s what’s inside the bouttle that counts, so let’s get to it…

Anchorage Endless Ending

Anchorage Endless Ending – Pours a very dark brown almost black color with a finger of tan head. Smells amazing, roast, caramel, toffee, candied raisins, and that bourbon, oak, and vanilla from the barrels. Taste is extremely sweet, rich and stoutlike upfront, with the barleywine character taking over in the middle and evolving through the finish. Hints of roast and caramel up front turning to toffee and dark fruit notes, caramelized raisins with a solid backdrop of bourbon, oak, and vanilla throughout. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, perfect moderate carbonation, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, a complex treat. Maybe not quite full-bore ADWTD level (this is sweeter and somehow less balanced), but still amazing in its own right. A- or A

Beer Nerd Details: 15.5% ABV bottled (375 ml, waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 10/18/19.

More to come on that Deal With the Devil, but this will certainly tide me over in the meantime.

Mother of All Storms

Pelican Pub and Brewery’s Mother of All Storms is a stalwart classic of barrel-aged barleywine. Not the first, but among the better examples out there, it began its life as Stormwatcher’s Winterfest. The initial incarnations of the barrel aged version of same were dubbed Perfect Storm, but after a couple of years, this was changed to Mother of All Storms. In accordance with the Kaedrin tradition of completely unwarranted and unsubstantiated explanations for such changes, I suspect this has to do with some sort of legal snafu involving the popular book/film, The Perfect Storm. Rather than risk the wrath of George Clooney and Sebastian Junger (as they were obviously angered by a Northwestern brewery appropriating the tale of a tragic Nor’easter) Pelican caved and decided to change the name. As per usual, it’s what’s in the bottle that counts, so let’s hoist a glass in honor of the Andrea Gail:

Pelican Mother of All Storms

Pelican Mother of All Storms – Pours a deep, dark brown color with a half finger of light tan head. Smells of rich caramel, candied dark fruit, boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, with some hops lurking in the undertow maybe? Taste is rich caramel, molasses, brown sugar, candied dark fruit, raisins, plums, and lots of that boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, finishing with a light bitterness. Bottle sez it’s an English Barleywine, but I get some of that vaunted American Barleywine hoppy dankness in the taste as well. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, well carbed, plenty of boozy heat. Overall, yup, awesome. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/25/19. IBU: 40. Bottled: 11-9-18.

Yeah, I’m still catching up with some old reviews. Pelican seems like a neat brewery (located right on the coast, it seems like an absurdly photogenic brewery location), and they’ve built on the success of MoAS with additional barrel aged beers like Father of All Tsunamis (a BBA stout), amongst others, which I obviously need to catch up with someday.

Gigantic Massive!

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

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.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale

First brewed in 1968 in honor of the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Victorian author, Thomas Hardy’s Ale has a long and illustrious history. A history that I won’t bore you with since others have recounted all the various ownership changes and tumultuous brewery shenanigans ad nauseam. Also, sometimes that sort of thing is boring all by itself. Suffice it to say that it’s a venerable, storied British barleywine that is often aged for upwards of 25 years or even more. Legend has it that the original run of these beers peaked at around 8 years in the bottle. I… did not wait that long, and have a couple of recent vintages here, so take these reviews with the appropriate, sarcastic boulder of salt in which I offer them:

Thomas Hardys Ale Golden Edition 50th Anniversary

Thomas Hardy’s Ale Golden Edition 50th Anniversary – Not sure what differentiates this from earlier editions (it’s marked as a “Special Edition” and lists out others brewed to celebrate this or that), though it does seem to have a higher ABV, so maybe that’s the ticket – Pours a slightly hazy copper color with almost no head at all, not even especially a ring around the edge. Smells nice, some spicy hops, lots of crystal malt character, not quite the caramel and toffee that you really want, but it’s kinda there, and could perhaps emerge over time. Taste is sweet, lots of that crystal malt, some dark fruit too, earthy, spicy hops and a bit of booze. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but nearly still and thus sticky, a little bit of alcohol warming. Overall, it’s a nice little barleywine, I could see it improving with age, but I’m still not sure it’d really compete with top tier barleywines I’ve had. B

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (11.15 ounces/330 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/18. Bottle No. 32685. Vintage 2018. Best by: 19/09/27.

Thomas Hardys Ale The Historical 2017

Thomas Hardy’s Ale The Historical 2017 – This is 2017 Thomas Hardy’s Ale aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels (probably Jack Daniels, though I suppose it could be Dickel or something more obscure) for 6 months, a “historical” throwback to the original Thomas Hardy’s Ale, which was aged in Cognac barrels – Pours a bit of a darker copper, and again there’s no head or real visible carbonation. Smells better, rich caramel and toffee coming through more here, with the crystal malt anchoring it, and just a touch of whiskey, oak, and vanilla too. Taste is much fruitier than the nose would imply, lots of dark fruit, plums, raisons, figs, and so on, with some whiskey, oak, and vanilla pitching in. As it warms, the fruity character takes on an odd sort of tangy note. It’s not quite tart, but it doesn’t feel right either. Mouthfeel is full bodied and flat as a board, a little alcohol heat too. Overall, it seemed like an improvement over the regular at first, but that didn’t quite last. Probably heresy, but I think American barrel aged barleywines tend to be far better than this was. Maybe some age would help, but I can’t see it rivaling the best. B

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (8.45 ounces/250 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/7/18. Bottle No. 18836. Vintage 2017. Best by: 29/10/27.

So I enjoyed this exercise and it’s always nice to delve into historically significant beer. I have another of the Golden Edition sitting in the cellar for a rainy day 8-10 years from now. Maybe.

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

Picture, if you will, a beer. Four simple ingredients, added to which a fifth: the barrel. In this case, a blend of barleywine aged in bourbon and brandy barrels. An enticing elixir To Serve Man. You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of bwizzle. Next stop, Bottle Logic.

Rod Serling, I am not, but this beer, clearly inspired by The Twilight Zone, is truly One for the Angels. Let’s crack the sweet malt cipher:

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind

Bottle Logic Sight and Mind – Pours a cloudy, dark brown color with half a finger of tightly bubbled head that doesn’t stick around long. Smells great, brown sugar, caramel, toffee, molasses, fruity malt, and the requisite bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste is amazing, tons of rich caramel and toffee, brown sugar and molasses, dark candied fruits, bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and chewy, finely carbed, with a pleasant boozy heat. Intense, but complex and very well balanced. Overall, a spectacular, dimension spanning beer. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/2/18.

Yes, I drank this over two months ago and am only getting to it now that I have Time Enough at Last. Alright, enough with the Twilight Zone puns. This is a great beer and fully deserving of the hype around Bottle Logic, which is all in the Eye of the Beholder. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Incidentally, I just realized that Serling never said “Picture, if you will” in the Twilight Zone, but rather, his other show, Night Gallery. Drats. Truly, we have entered a land of both shadow and substance.