Kees: Barrel Project #05/2016 (Netherlands: Imperial Stout: 10% ABV)
Visual: Black. Still. White swirl and loose bubbles over it but no real head.
Nose: Caramel. Thick. Molasses. Treacle toffee and chocolate toffee. Chocolate liqueur. Alpen. Rye bourbon. Shreddies and fresh white toast.
Body: Belgian chocolate. Bitter cocoa. Thick vanilla fudge. Orange liqueur. Nutty. Rye bourbon. Bready base. Light earthy notes. Figs. Cream. White sugar. Very smooth.
Finish: Wholemeal bread. Rye bourbon. Chocolate biscuits. Earthy notes. Bitter cocoa. Lemongrass. White sugar and white chocolate. Raisins. Bitter coffee cake. Nutty and praline.
Conclusion: Big, yet restrained. Bourbon backed, yet earthy. Thick, yet smooth and somewhat light at times. Ok, you have my attention beer, are you going to earn it?
The base, while you can feel the oatmeal stout thickness, slips down very easily – it is smoothed, I presume, by its time in the oak. A lot of the notes in there are the expected ones – bitter cocoa, chocolate – albeit in a very high quality Belgian style, fudge. Everything very well done. There is however an unusual, restrained rustic earthy set of notes – common in standard stouts, but something that big booming imperial stouts often neglect. It is unusual to find the more savoury notes working against the sweetness.
It is a good look, especially against the bourbon ageing. The more rustic side of the bourbon character seems to match the earthy notes well giving shreddies and rye style characteristics which ground a heavy flavoured beer. Thankfully neither side dominates, the beer or the bourbon – there are orange sweet notes from the bourbon boom, and distinct spirit characteristics, but the beer is big enough to take it and layer the bitter chocolate flavours over the top without losing either.
Initially, when chilled, it was a tad too light but heat brings it out into excellent balance. It is still smooth, but with a bit more grip to let it really shine. It can still have thin moments, but generally the oatmeal stout character pulls it through. Warmth also brings a bit of dark fruit play, which is nigh always a good choice.
So, generally good? Aye, very much so. Downsides? Well the cocoa notes can stick to the tongue, as if you have been licking the cocoa itself. Occasional thin notes as well, but not really much on the downsides.
As I always say, the Imperial Stout category is a packed one, and this doesn’t shift out the top few. However this is more savoury and grounded than most, while still letting the flavours boom. Well done and less over the top than many in the category which is worthy of respect.
Background: An Oatmeal Stout Aged on Heaven Hill barrels, as you can probably read on the bottle. There was a whole bunch of the Barrel Project beers at Independent Spirit and since I have been hearing good things about Kees I decided to grab one of them. I went for this one as 1) I love oatmeal stouts and 2) In My experience Heaven Hills’ barrels do lovely work for barrel ageing a stout. Anyway not much else to say – this was a big beer so broke out some big music. Iron Maiden: A Matter Of Life And Death. Seriously love that album, barely a bad track on it.