On any given Friday or Saturday night, I may find myself faced with a decision of the utmost importance: should I have a beer or whiskey? Boulevard or Bulleit? Lagunitas or Lagavulin? Lucky for me, the ever-growing selection of bourbon-barrel-aged beers offers relief from such daunting choices.
The concept of aging beer in used bourbon barrels originated, as best we can tell, at Goose Island Brewing in the early 1990s, when brewmaster Greg Hall filled six Jim Beam barrels with stout that would eventually become the first Bourbon County stout. The style existed in obscurity until the resurgence of the bourbon market that began in the late 2000s. With a surplus of used bourbon barrels, and a market thirsty for anything with bourbon, it seemed only natural that breweries begin following in Hall’s footsteps and experimenting with various forms of beer in barrels.
One such example of this all-American ingenuity is Backwoods Bastard by Founders. This heavy-hitting scotch ale pours a dark amber-brown with minimal head, and at first gives off a pleasant aroma of bourbon and stone fruit. If left to warm up for a few minutes, the scent blooms into a warm, boozy, sweet, and smoky bouquet. The first sip offers a caramel-like sweetness, before giving way to the complex vanilla, toffee, and dark fruit flavors of from the bourbon barrels. As the rich sweetness dissipates from your tongue, a lingering bitterness reminiscent of dark chocolate remains, reminding you that this boozy mash-up is still a beer.
Although Backwoods Bastard lacks the ravenous following (and price tag) of its bigger, badder cousin KBS, it is still a fine example of the bourbon barrel aged category. It is best enjoyed in cold weather, when the 11.2% ABV will simultaneously warm you from the inside and help you forget you just paid $15 for a 4-pack.