Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Whale A Week: Churchill's Finest Hour 2013

A Whale A Week is my attempt to share a rare beer with friends every week for the whole year of 2015, often accompanied by funky photo tricks.  This helps me get through my dragon's hoard of cellared beers as well as practice with beer photography.  This week we do another Bourbon Barrel aged Imperial Stout...

Churchill's Finest Hour 2013

Most folks have heard of Port Brewing in California, co-run with Lost Abbey and the Pizza Port brewpubs.  We still can't get those beers here in Minnesota, but I've got a few lurking in my cellar!  I have really liked Old Viscosity when I've had it in the past.  Every year since 2010 the brewery has released a special beer for Churchill's Pub and Grille in San Marcos, California.  The beer is a blend of up to three different beers to make a special and changing product each year.  The pub has a special Renaissance Day celebration each year which includes a ton of rare beers on tap and the release of this special beer.  Like a lot of these limited release events, folks have started showing up the night before and waiting in line for their entry and beers.

Knowing that a lot of effort went into getting this particular beer, I was excited to try it!  This week I had my good friend Rob Wengler share the beer with me.  Rob is known for his web based show Limited Release where he, Ron Johnson, (and occasionally me) travel to these special beer release parties and document the ensuing chaos.  And as usual, my wife Sarajo helped us to drink this beer.

I couldn't find much information about this specific beer, but I do know that it is 11% ABV and at least some of it is barrel aged.  The dark brown wax dipped top indicates that it is from 2013.  BeerAdvocate has a rating of 97 for this vintage, and RateBeer has a combined vintage score of 100.  I served this beer slightly warmer than I wanted to (60 degrees F.)

Fun with smoke effects!  I put some serious time into getting this just right, so enjoy it!

Eric: A mix of milk and semi-sweet chocolates.  Some strong nose-stinging alcohol and bourbon.  Vanilla and oak tannin.  No hop aroma.  There is a burnt coffee or overly roasted malt aroma as it is swirled.  Alcohol is very overpowering.
Rob: Dark cherries.  Dark toasted oak, vanilla and lots of tannin.  Alcohol heat. Candy, caramel/burnt sugar.  Slightly smoky.

Eric & Rob: Opaque black, no light is getting through this beer!  Large head with deep brown color.  Large bubbles that fade fairly quickly but are easily roused back again.

Eric: Semi-sweet chocolate like in the aroma.  Following that is very firm alcohol warming, bordering on burning.  Hints of vanilla and oak tannins.  There is sweetness here, but more like a dry Belgian beer than a sticky RIS.  Molasses and prune flavors as I get past the strong alcohol.  Body only medium, probably from the dry boozy finish, tannins and abundant roasted/burnt malt.  As it warms I pick up on some smoke.  Carbonation higher than expected from appearance.
Rob: Smooth/harmonious, very even.  Slightly smoky-makes me think of Scotch more than bourbon.  Just sweet enough.  Subtle spices, maybe a touch of cinnamon?  Hot and effervescent.  Carbonation makes it seem lighter bodied.

Eric: Very tasty overall.  The alcohol is so strong that it covers a lot of the other flavors lurking under the hood.  Pleasant and fun to try, but lacks complexity.  Feeling the burn!  I would be interested in trying other vintages to see what those are like.  4
Rob: Not as heavy as I'd expect for 11%.  Main flavor for me is Scotch.  This might be subdued more if we drank this colder. 4
Sarajo: It's OK. 4

A cool and rare beer to try with an interesting back story.  We all liked it, but serving it warm may have hurt this a bit.  That being said, I've had my share of RIS beers served warm that I gave higher ratings to.  I'd love to know if they actually used Scotch barrels for this batch.

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