Law Man: Obsidian: Barrel Aged Stout (Scotland: Imperial Stout: 8.4% ABV)
Visual: Black. Still. No head despite a vigorous pour.
Nose: Smokey coffee. Raw coffee beans. Vanilla toffee. Bitter cocoa dust. Light moss. Bready. Slight sour cream notes.
Body: Smooth. Treacle. Smoke. Moss. Milky chocolate. Sour cream. Bitter cocoa. Bourbon.
Finish: Charred oak. Cocoa pops and milky chocolate. Grassy. Bitter. Sour cream. Alcohol air. Rye. Bourbon
Conclusion: This feels paradoxically light and yet overly harsh beer. Odd. It has very smooth mouthfeel – in fact the front feels like it lacks grip resulting in the chocolate notes coming in kind of floaty and lacking weight. Then as you are digging into that to try and investigate suddenly charred oak and harsh bitterness seems to set up shop on your tongue, just coming out of nowhere.
It is an odd, not entirely pleasant, experience. Doubly odd as the aroma is excellent – absolutely booming with tons of coffee and tiny hints of treacle amongst cocoa dust. You get full on roasted bean character just floating out of the glass.
By contrast the body, well it still has that treacle character, but now in a slightly artificial way. It is kind of similar to what a bunch of low abv dark beers use to build up the body to compensate for the lack of malt, but this is far from low abv. it is a gosh darn imperial stout and shouldn’t need to use such tricks. While they use whisky barrels for the ageing, the general feel of this is more towards the rougher edge of bourbon. That is not a slight on bourbon – there is plenty of good stuff out there – but this isn’t it. The influence seems the more simple rye crackers and alcohol air rather than the sweet subtleties that a good barrel can bring.
It is a pity, as there is something unusual and kind of worthy in there. There is this slightly savoury, mossy character mid body, and a grassy finish that hints at a more grounded beer, one with more weight and an almost Springbank influenced character. Something decent. Something with more weight to it. As is the beer doesn’t have enough weight to manage the barrel ageing, it loses the heavy stout middle, becoming overly smooth, and those empty moments get filled with the rougher spirit notes. Like this, the grassy notes, instead of being a pleasant backing, instead match with the charred character for a rough finish.
There is a good beer in there somewhere – some chocolate, some coffee, but overall it doesn’t really mesh. A rare case where barrel ageing seems to have actually hurt a stout.
Background: Saw this at Independent Spirit, a whisky barrel aged version of their base Obsidian stout. It had good buzz about it so I grabbed a bottle despite not having tried anything from law Man before. Drunk while listening to Bowie: Black Star. Heavy haunting music for heavy beer. Not much else to say, I’ve really been spoiled by great barrel aged Imperial Stouts over the years so any new one has a lot to live up to.