Wild Beer Co: Raconteur (England: Barley Wine: 9.9% ABV)

Visual: Dark cloudy red. Some sediment and an off white hash of a head.

Nose: Sherried raisins and vanilla. Pinot Noir. Glacier cherries and black forest gateaux.

Body: Smooth. Liquorice. Musky red wine. Red grapes. Tart and vinous. Tart apples. Raisins and sultanas. Vanilla. Toffee. Black forest gateaux.

Finish: Vinous. Fruitcake and raisins. Madeira. Musty red wine. Black cherry. Tart apples. Brown bread. Bitter wine.

Conclusion: Vinous. Definitely vinous. The problem isn’t deciding that it is wine like, but what type of wine it is like. That is the question that is burning my brain.

There’s the musky red wine mid body, the full and fruity wine for the aroma, tart and sour wine late body and bitter red wine in the finish. It’s all the wines. At once. Ok, it’s all the wines I know, but I’m hardly an expert on that one. So does that make this beer great or just confused?

Well it does lean heavily on the vinous notes to define it, so much so that a lot of the expected base barley wine elements are somewhat muted. There’s vanilla and toffee in such a way as I would expect from more bourbon oak ageing, but of the expected barley wine elements only the fruitcake really comes through.

This really is both its biggest benefit and flaw. The vinous elements are very wide ranging, but because of that they become the baseline for the beer rather than a high point. It feels like it needs some contrast to bring the effect into full relief. The smooth character from ageing is again a great characteristic, but one that takes out the highs and lows of a beer, creating consistent quality at the cost of the individual perks that make up a masterpiece.

If I felt like being harsh I would point out the occasional liquorice flavour that comes out isn’t my favourite, however I feel like I am being hard enough on it for its over reliance on wine flavours. It is a beer that I am very happy drinking, but not one I would probably return to. It is a wine beer experience that really needs a stronger base beer to work from.

So a wine beer that really needs more of the beer.

Background: Raconteur, a storyteller who tells tales with skill and wit. Nice name. This is the second of the Trinity of Barrel aged beers Wild Beer Co released for Christmas. The other two are based on pre existing beers, but this is an entirely new one, a barley wine aged in Marc de Bourgogne barrels. Wild beer co were probably the stand out brewer of 2013 for me so I am getting excited for any of their new beers.