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
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.
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.
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 TheCraftBeerGuru.com.
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.