Boston Beer Co: Samuel Adams: Barrel Room Collection: Stony Brook Red (USA: Sour Ale: 9% ABV)
Visual: Dark black cherry red. Browned thin bubbled moderate sized head.
Nose: Acidic apple. Vanilla bourbon notes. Malt chocolate. Dry oak. Port soaked raisins. Figs. Strawberry and red cherries. Shortbread.
Body: Figs. Bitter back. Chocolate syrup. Oak. Spicy mulled wine. Toasted teacakes. Red cherries. Chocolate cake. Brown bread. Sultanas.
Finish: Red wine. Raisins. Mulled spice and spiced orange. Acidic apple. Vanilla. Oats. Chocolate drops and chocolate cake.
Conclusion: I like to describe those shifting odd flavours found in tart and acidic beers as “almost holographic flavours” – talking about the fact that they seem like an illusion caused by the tongue’s response to the mix of the acidity and the base beer.
Oddly this has those flavours despite the fact that the beer isn’t that tart or acidic. Well it is a little, but generally whatever harshness it had has been mellowed by the barrel ageing – yet still it somehow has a magnificent range of those holographic feeling flavours.
Initially acidic apple seems the main course to this beer, but after a while you realise a slightly bitter chocolate cake is the solid core that has been marked by drying oak ageing. Then from that core the fruit and tartness seep out into the outer edges.
What seeps out is brilliant dark fruit, full of figs, vinous red wine and raisins – that dark fruits mix gives the beer a real depth. The acidic apple that seemed so prominent early on floats above it all adding acidic freshness to what would otherwise be a heavy beer.
The oak ageing works here nigh perfectly, adding toasted teacake flavours, vanilla notes and smoothing everything together. It gives a cask ale style feel with the intermingling flavours, which makes it wonderful to dissect and examine.
So a very mellow sour red ale, but still with a lot of life that would come with the sharper and more challenging elements that make the style stand out. It walks a thin line between accessibility and quality and marks well in both. A lovely toasted texture, just enough sharpness and a rock solid core. Very much worth getting.
Background: Samuel Adams rarities are getting easier to find in the UK, though not hugely so. Thus Independent Spirit brought through a few cases of their Barrel Aged selection and I grabbed this one, what seems to be a Flemish style red that has been aged in Bourbon barrels. Drunk with friends, this has a surprisingly easy to get out cork. Which I appreciate. Oh, also how cool is the bottle shape? – kind of like a telescope – I may be easily pleased but that is just fun.