Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Whale A Week: Lift Bridge Barrel Aged Silhouette

Last week on A Whale A Week we tasted the bright and refreshing Cantillon Fou' Foune.  During that tasting that became a somewhat epic bottle share among a small group of us, we ended up cracking some other whales.  Not to miss the opportunity, I made everyone work for it and write out their descriptions for use in the past couple of weeks.  The goal of this series of reviews is to force me to actually drink some of these rare beers that are lurking in my cellar, rather than just gaze upon them in adoration.

Lift Bridge Barrel Aged Silhouette

This week we finish up our whale tasting binge with local Minnesota brewery Lift Bridge's barrel aged Russian Imperial stout.  Lift Bridge Brewery was one of the first wave of "new" breweries in Minnesota when craft beer started to gain popularity here.  In 2008 they started out contract brewing with other early Minnesota craft brewer Flat Earth.  By 2010 they had gained enough of a reputation with their flagship Farm Girl Saison that they were able to move brewing to their own facility in Stillwater (where the old lift bridge the company is named for is located).  They have also taken advantage of the new legislation in the state to open a taproom on site for thirsty fans to sample a pint of their beer.  I have not been out to the brewery yet, but look forward to getting out there at some point this year.  

To be frank, over the past couple of years I haven't really found myself drinking much beer from these guys.  However, I was recently at the Happy Gnome beer dinner that featured Lift Bridge and was actually impressed with the improved beer quality since the last time I had tried them.  The star of the show was the preview of the not yet released Barrel Aged Silhouette and this promptly jumped up into my most sought-after beer category.  I had tried the regular Silhoutte at Winterfest a couple years back and was pleased with it, but the time in the barrel has really brought this beer up a level.

Silhouette is a Russian Imperial stout, with stats: 10% ABV, 80 IBU, 70 SRM.  They use 12 year old bourbon barrels to age a portion of this and release it once a year since 2013 as a special event at the brewery only.  While they haven't reached Darkness Day or Dark Lord Day numbers yet, the past two years have shown a big increase in interest in this beer and the event itself.  The barrel aged version has a 100 rating on Beer Advocate and a 97 on RateBeer: both very respectable scores!

Per the bottle description: "Black as a moonless night and brewed in the style of a Russian Imperial Stout, this complex beer’s notes of coffee, roasted malt, rich toffee and black licorice meld with an intense roasted character to provide a complex, rich and full bodied beer. It’ll warm the senses on a cold winter night, or anytime you decide to let a little darkness in. Pairs well with cave aged blue cheese, dark chocolate and cherry chocolate cake."

For today's tasting we gathered a panel of experts...Ok, people who like beer.  Included were:  Me--Homebrewer, BJCP judge.  My wife Sj--Fan of Imperial stouts.  Dave Manley--JAB member, homebrewer, cellared beer expert.  Jim Stroner--Beer enthusiast and photographer.  Rick Spaulding--Also beer enthusiast, biker, and photographer.  With this varied dream team assembled, we cracked open Jim's bottle of the 2015 Barrel Aged Silhouette!  This was the last of four big beers we reviewed, so our descriptions suffered a bit...bear with us!

Eric: Strong bourbon aroma, vanilla, toasted oak.  Dark bitter chocolate and roasted malt.  Some sweetness as it warms in the glass.
Dave: Bourbon, malt, toffee, vanilla.
Jim: Vanilla, booze, heavy molasses.
Rick: Bourbon.

Deep and dark, nearly perfect black.  Thick and viscous with legs on the edge of glass as swirled.  Nearly opaque, but a slight ruby highlight at edge when held to the light.  Very fine tan head that fades quickly.

Eric: Sweet, thick, and malty as anything!  Coconut, vanilla present.  Alcohol warming but not overly hot.  Slight sweet dark cherry flavor.  Roasted grain lends a somewhat bitter finish, but not acrid. This actually cuts down the residual sweetness.  Body is pretty thick and mouth coating.
Dave: Wow!  Bourbon, licorice, vanilla.  Just a hair too boozy.
Jim: Very sweet--in a good way.  Very much the same as the aroma.
Rick: Caramel, bourbon, smooth and warming.  Medium to heavy body.

Eric: A very good beer.  Not overly smooth--the alcohol is pretty strong in it, but complex and exciting to taste.  A wonderful example of the bourbon barrel aged RIS.  I'd love to try the 2014 version and see if it smooths out some. 4.5
Dave: Nicely done.  I think age with bring out the complexities even more.
Jim: Very nice! 4.5
Rick: 5
Sj: 4.5

So overall, we were pretty impressed with this beer.  Not too shabby for a small batch from a local Minnesota brewery!  This beer alone makes me want to pay more attention to Lift Bridge and see what else they are doing.  Anyone who can craft a beer this fine deserves some beer geek love.

Next week we'll review Logsdon Farmhouse Brewery's Peche 'n Brett for a return to sour territory-- tune in!

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