Monday, January 23, 2012

FiftyFifty Brewing Co. - Imperial Eclipse Stout- Elijah Craig 18 Year

You would think that aging beer in bourbon barrels would be easy enough to do: Take a decent base beer, throw it into a bourbon barrel, forget about it for a few months and then take it out and bottle it. But, for a variety of reasons, it's not quite that simple. First of all, you can't just take any beer and throw it in a bourbon barrel. If the base beer is crappy, aging it in bourbon barrels isn't going to make it not crappy. You also need a beer whose flavors will be complemented and enhanced by the bourbon. Some beers work with bourbon and some beers don't. But few that I've come across work as well with bourbon as FiftyFifty's Imperial Eclipse Stout.

FiftyFifty is a brewery from Truckee, California, whose beers pretty much never show up in San Diego. However, they have a pretty good reputation, largely based on their Eclipse series. This series of beers began a few years ago when FiftyFifty aged a stout called Eclipse in Pappy Van Winkle Barrels. The next year, they released three different barrel aged versions of it, and this year they're up to seven different versions. I ended up with the Elijah Craig 18 Year version (also called Elijah Craig 20 because the barrel is 20 years old). A big thanks to my friend, Andrew, for finding this beer for me.

Eclipse pours an oily black color with a thin, light brown head. The head might not have been too impressive, but the huge amount of lacing this beer left down my glass was. The smell was, in a word, incredible. One of the best smelling beers I've ever come across. There were rich aromas of coconut, milk chocolate, bourbon, toffee and fudge. It's not uncommon for a barrel aged beer to smell like whatever was in the barrel (in this case, bourbon), and that's it. But the bourbon was almost an afterthought to the other rich and sweet smells here. I could have spent hours just smelling this one, but I couldn't wait to have a taste.

The taste opens with a lot of coconut and chocolate sweetness (almost like a Mounds bar), then changes to flavors of honey, roasted malt and a touch of coffee. The bourbon is there, but it blends into the other flavors so seamlessly that you don't detect any of the heat you get from a lot of bourbon barrel aged beers. This may be the best bourbon barrel aged beer I've ever had, and it's without a doubt one of the top ten beers I've had, period. If you can snag a bottle of this (or of any of the variations of Eclipse), you have to do it. Amazing stuff.

Final Grade: A+

Top 100 Beers Tasted: 34

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