OK – I feel bad. I lied to you already. I don’t really do actual tasting notes for a lot of reasons, but mostly I think you should let beer tell you what it tastes like, rather than letting some guy with a blog tell you what it tastes like.
With that being said, I do have some first impressions from a couple beers ready to be released November 25 at Santa Barbara Brewing Company and a couple with some time to go still from Barrelworks.
The picture above shows a little peek at what a tasting with Santa Barbara’s brewmaster Kevin Pratt looks like. He was there, as were James and David Burge from Pure Order Brewing Co., Sandy Harrison from Valley Brewers and Santa Barbara Sentinel beer columnist Zach Rosen. You may notice the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. bottles in the back – Pratt said those bottles will eventually house beers being shipped off for the World Beer Cup.
The picture above also shows the star of Brewco’s winter lineup – Old Wrecollection. Now a two-year old beer (the kegs have been aging in the brewery’s cold room since it was first brewed in 2011), the release is limited. Only four kegs will be poured this year – with last year’s allotment lasting until Valentine’s Day.
The beer is aging magnificently. At 13.5% ABV, the alcohol is certainly present but notably subdued compared to years past. I picked up a little bit of dark fruit. It made me think of dark grapes and plums. The vanilla from the bourbon oak used in the beer has started to fade, but the more spicy oak notes are starting to shine through on the back end.
Next up was the aptly named Naughty List. A hefty Imperial Stout, my notes don’t even list an ABV, but it was close to Old Wrec’s weight (at this point in the tasting, my note-taking ability was, well, starting to get wrecked itself). To me, it tasted a bit like sweet cherries covered in chocolate syrup. Others said prunes (this is why I ask you to take my notes here with some caution, as everyone’s palate is unique).
The alcohol was exceptionally hidden – something Kevin seems to do well in many of his beers – making this beer a sneaky drinker and sure to lead to some bad behavior.
The tasting at Brewco was the second of the day for me. The first part was spent at Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks in Buellton. There, master blender “Sour” Jim Crooks and Barrelmeister Jeffers Richardson were playing around with some experimental brews. I won’t go into too much detail here, as they are part of the subject of my December column in the News Press, but there were samples of everything from Brettaweiss straight out of the large horizontal foeder (think 1,800-gallon wooden barrel) to that base beer aged on top of 1,000 pounds of raspberries.
Crooks and Richardson were also experimenting with beers fermenting in open-top brandy barrels and wine grape skins and wine must. One beer, aged in a barrel on zinfandel skins (but no juice) came out looking almost like a pinot noir but with a flavor much closer to Brettaweiss. I plan on giving more details about beers made with juice from orange muscat grapes, chenin blanc grapes, and sauvignon blanc grapes in my December column – so stay tuned for that one.