Friday, April 19, 2013

Dominion's Oak Barrel Stout

A wise man once asked, "What's In a Name?"

In this case, a beer that defies its expectations.  But for good?  Or bad? 

Oak Barrel Stout from The Old Dominion Brewing Company
6.1% ABV
25 IBUs

To best couch those expectations, one must note before drinking, that despite the "barrel" reference in this Dominion beer's title, it is left ambiguous whether this is actually aged in barrels. It is only clear that "Oak Barrel", in this case, references the chips with which this brew is dry hopped. 

A stout aged in bourbon barrels (which it is unclear whether this was), is typically characterized by bold, rich booziness. Among other powerful traits, of course. So, with a name like Oak Barrel Stout, one would not be wrong to expect a beer ambitious by nature. 

Which, disappointingly, this is not.  This Oak Barrel Stout may be, in fact, the complete opposite; a testament to subtlety.  For any type of stout, not just one with such an intriguing name, this one from Dominion, in most all facets, may even be described as relatively delicate.

So, join in the Oak Barrel Stout tasting experience...

Oak Barrel Stout delivers a fluffy, dirty head, at least an inch thick with staying power. The liquid is black, like the fluid form of the outer parts of an Oreo.  

Spotty lacing

The placid nature of this beer is first apparent by smell.  Oak Barrel's aroma is tremendously mild; almost easy to miss.  Other than a hint of vanilla, there exists little of specificity to note. 

Two aspects of Oak Barrel miss immediately: the mouthfeel and the carbonation.  The texture is much too thin for the style, and the carbonation is flat like a cola left open in the fridge too long.  Neither flaw, though, is so overwhelming as to be a deal-breaker. 

Just disappointing. 

While not egregiously sweet, Oak Barrel provides a sugariness across the palate that becomes more vanilla in nature in the aftertaste.

Second to that sugar, Oak Barrel delivers a timid walnut characteristic.  The flavor profile certainly lacks from the relative low alcohol by volume.  A whiskey kick, something to warm the throat, would really serve this beer well.  

The things that work?  Oak Barrel is a really smooth beer (even, perhaps, "refined"), easy to finish, and inviting enough to make one not afraid to ask for another. It's initial appearance was also superb.   And, most worthy of praise, no single aspect comes close to repugnant.  

It simply fails to meet expectations.  Expectations stoked by Dominion's bold but, ultimately, poorly chosen name.   

2 out of a possible 5 stars from  

There are many preferable stouts to choose from.  Of those aged in barrels (or allegedly so), most satisfy where this Oak Barrel Stout fails.  

Yet, while it can not be recommended, nothing about this beer makes it one to avoid. This particular Oak Barrel Stout may be enjoyable, but not nearly as much so as others of its style. 


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale

"Bittersweet", in the case of Lagunitas' Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale (from here on, "Undercover"), is really a wonderful battle of bitter versus sweet.

Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale
9.75% ABV 
66.6 IBUs

This is a tremendously well balanced beer.  And, like most from Lagunitas, Undercover is far better than much of its competition at the same price point. 

Undercover's alcohol presence is high by volume, but only a bit more than moderately noticeable in taste.  Biting bitterness is tempered by a silky smooth, but not overbearing, sweetness.

Yet, this excellent balance is achieved at the sacrifice of anything wildly memorable about the flavor profile.

Upon pour, a head initially a finger and a half tall rests atop the beer, with the half-finger fading quickly.  Undercover appears ruddy orange, like a pumpkin far beyond being ripe, and is only translucent in the same sense as stained glass. 

Traces of spotty lacing.

The head, more foamy than creamy, stifles the flushness of the aroma, initially allowing only a hint of lemon to rise to the nose.  As the scent opens, it flourishes with a zesty orange nature and a characteristic difficult to pin down, but such that it provokes anticipation of resinous hops to follow. 

Undercover's mouthfeel is moderately thick, maybe even slightly more than moderate for an amber, and leaves some stickiness on the palate.  

Upon first sip, the hops initially sting the tip of the tongue and then relent.  Overt bitterness is not immediately evident but grows quickly in the aftertaste, as does the peppery hop spice.  Upon continued savoring, increasing bitterness is present with each of the following sips.  

Yet, while bitterness is certainly true, Undercover offers a strong caramel characteristic.  It is sweet; not like taffy, but something like a decadent toffee. Undercover is a successful exercise in dichotomy, effectively countering bitter with sweet. 

Lagunitas' beers are known for powerful, dank, piney notes.  Not here.  Undercover's most delicious traits derive from the malt profile, not from the hops.  

Lacking the trademark pine, Undercover is neither better nor worse than its Lagunitas brethren for it.  Just different.  

Given the history of its creation, Undercover seems surprisingly mature.  Perhaps the opposite of exotic. Undercover is the conservative take on a style shared by the much more wild  Ruination, Hop Stoopid, and Abrasive, et al.  

Beer worth raving about?  Probably not.  Yet, Undercover is one that Lagunitas has executed nearly without flaw. 

Undercover is a three star beer.  However, its value - of which Lagunitas always delivers (Undercover being below two dollars per bottle at the local Total Wine) - earns it an extra half star.  

So, 3.5 of 5 stars from TheCraftBeerGuru, with a recommendation (although second to other Lagunitas offerings including Sucks and Brown Shugga).