2.7AROMA 5/10 APPEARANCE 3/5 TASTE 5/10 PALATE 4/5 OVERALL 10/20
The winter warmer is one of my favorite styles of beer since it lends itself so well to craft brewing. These beers are known for their complex, spicy palates and heavier bodies. So what happens when a macro brewery conglomerate takes a shot at it? The answer is Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale by Michelob – the faux craft line of Anheuser-Busch/InBev.
This is a beer made for the Joe and Jane Six Packs looking for a beer with a bit more character than they’re used to that doesn’t sacrifice drinkability. And if that’s the intention then I’d say they’ve succeeded. However, the fact remains it’s still a macro brew made with adjuncts and has a truly mild palate at best.
APPEARANCE AND AROMA
The best way to compare the appearance of Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale would be to carbonated Nyquil (the red one). It’s a clear, copper/cherry red color which is initially effervescent, but eventually settles down and becomes completely tepid. It also generates a two-finger, foamy, off-white head that does leave just the slightest bit of lacing on the glass but eventually fizzles away completely.
There isn’t much of an aroma to speak of. I get a generic “beer smell” which is common for a beer from this type of brewery. It’s not quite as skunky or intensely grainy as an adjunct lager and does have a trace amount of dark fruit in the nose. It’s not inviting, but I’ve smelled much worse.
What’s funny about this beer is the way the flavors actually compete for attention. It’s quite obvious to me Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale is made with either adjuncts or at least lower-quality ingredients which comprise a significant portion of the palate. The other half is made up of seemingly genuine fruit and vanilla flavors.
Michelob claims this beer is aged on oak bourbon oak casks and whole Madagascar vanilla beans – which sounds like something you’d see on a Dogfish Head label. It’s too bad the flavor doesn’t exactly live up to the hype. While I do detect something of an earthy, woody quality to the palate - it’s very mild. Had the generic grainy taste and texture not been so distracting I think it would be much easier to appreciate and enjoy. There’s a fairly sweet taste in the finish but it does not linger.
In the true craft beer world, a cask-aged winter warmer would be a pretty hearty brew and probably appeal to a niche audience. Michelob has done their best to make such a beer appeal to a mass audience with this ale. The mild palate, combined with the soft, watery mouthfeel makes it a rather quaffable beer (if you’re used to drinking macro beers).
Beer snobs like me might find it to be slightly astringent, but the relatively thin body makes it at least drinkable. At 6% ABV, Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale is actually quite light for both a winter warmer, but rather heavy for a macro beer. Personally, I didn’t taste or notice the alcohol and I doubt the average drinker would, either.
I have serious doubts to the authenticity of the casks and the aging process this brew allegedly undergoes. Perhaps the pedestrian beer drinker might use Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale as a jumping-on point for higher-end craft beers that actually use such brewing methods. And if so, we beer geeks might actually thank Michelob for pointing potential drinkers in our direction.