Sunday, September 23, 2012

Southern Tier Oak Aged Back Burner

I’ve reviewed pretty much every beer Southern Tier makes, but I always avoided the Back Burner because barleywines tend to be intimidating brews. Now that I’ve had it (twice in four days, actually) I have to say it’s one of the most drinker-friendly barleywines on the craft beer market. Robust and complex for sure, it’s a hearty beer whose deliciousness makes up for any booziness.

NOTE: There are actually a few different versions of this beer. The original, an Oak Aged, and a Bourbon Barrel Aged. The original is 10% ABV, the Oak Aged is 9.6% and the Bourbon Barrel is 14.1% Though I’ve had all three, this review is based mostly on a 7-month-old bottle of the Oak Aged and partially on a tap pour I had of this only a few days ago.

   AROMA 8/10   APPEARANCE 4/5   TASTE 9/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 17/20
Chad9976 (732) - Albany, New York, USA - SEP 23, 2012
I poured a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass.

Appearance: Muddy complexion of cherry red, mahogany and brown proper. Forms a large, white, frothy head which leaves a surprisingly high amount of lacing for the style and never completely dissipates.

Smell: Almost a Belgian-like nose of dark fruit and candy. Rum-soaked raisin, plum, fig, and slight citrusy notes from the hops. A hint of alcohol from a fairly fresh bottle, but none in a significant vintage or on tap.

Taste: I’ve often found barleywines to be little more than carbonated syrup or imperial IPAs in disguise, but thankfully that’s not the case with Southern Tier Oak Aged Back Burner. A fresh version begins with a strong hop bitterness and taste of citrusy American hops. An older version is more sweet with a syrup-like flavor of toffee and caramel. Through the middle comes a mélange of fruit flavors: dates, raisins, figs, plums, and black cherries (oh my!). It’s an interesting and delectable contrast and balance between the assertive hops and the confectionary sweetness.

This is one of those beers where there’s a difference between hop bitterness and hop flavor as this definitely leans towards the hop flavor side. Chinook imparts an earthy, slightly resiny flavor and dry bitterness without going to the extremes of an imperial IPA. This is definitely more bitter than a British style barleywine, but not to the point of being reckless and overly trendy. The finish is sweet and tasty as the original caramel and toffee flavors emerge again. And despite all that, the body is really only medium and the finish is not as sticky or dry as you’d think.

Drinkability: Though very flavorful, Southern Tier Oak Aged Back Burner is not an assault on the tongue. This has one of the most comfortable mouthfeels for a beer of the style. Soft with a creamy texture, but with a noticeable amount of energy. It goes down very smooth with just a kiss of alcohol warmth and an accompanying vanilla flavor (likely due to the oak). At 9.6% ABV you’d probably consider this a nightcap or liquid dessert, but I had this on tap with spicy venison and it paired wonderfully. Definitely worth a try for fans of the barleywine style.
 Grade: 9/10

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