Driftwood – Old Cellar Dweller 2013

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While I like them well enough, I’m not especially partial to barleywines.  If I were to list my favourite beer styles in order, barleywines would be mid-way through the list at best.  As a beer enthusiast, it’s expected that I’d hold them in high regard: they are several styles all combined to create one beast of a beer: huge hops character combined with lots of malt.  Like a pale ale that’s been taking steroids.  However, I usually end up finding them a little too harsh for my tastebuds.  Even 2013 Woolly Bugger from Howe Sound, which by all accounts is an amazing example of the style, is a little on the harsh side for me.  I have decided that I like my barleywines with some age on them to help round off those harsh peaks and enrich the body of the beer.

This year’s Old Cellar Dweller from Driftwood Brewery has thrown a wrench in that self-diagnosis because it’s nothing like I’ve come to expect from a barleywine.  Perhaps it’s a little off-base to call it a barleywine at all.  A similar sub-genre of beer, the barrel-aged double IPA, has a very special place in my heart.  A good example is Burton Baton from Dogfish Head.  It’s got the big hops character of a DIPA but with a sweet malt backbone.  This year’s Old Cellar Dweller is a departure from year’s past and follows very similarly to what I’d expect from a barrel-aged DIPA.  It is exactly what I love.

Instead of caramel in the malts though, Old Cellar Dweller is much more in line with honey sweetness.  Huge honey sweetness, in fact.  The hops are huge, citrus and floral in taste plus some great citrus pine on the nose, but their bitterness is astoundingly gentle.  More Sartori than Fat Tug.  Despite the 11.6% ABV, the alcohol is all but nonexistent.  There is none of the dark fruits or chocolate you might find in previous years.  2013 Old Cellar Dweller is bright, light, sweet, and (to keep the rhyme) a total delight.

A note on the packaging as well.  I think Driftwood has really stepped up their game on the waxing, taking cues from Dark Lord with the stringy runs of wax down the bottle.  It might be silly, but these runs of wax are icing on the cake when buying a cellar staple such as this.  For the first time in Old Cellar Dweller history though, I wonder if there’s any point in sitting on bottles of this for any length of time.  It’s just so good right now and there’s no harshness or booziness that needs time to settle.  That said I will sit on a couple anyway in the name of science, I just don’t think it’s likely to yield any great benefit.

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Howe Sound Brewing – Woolly Bugger 2013

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The craft beer scene in BC, and most notably Vancouver, has exploded in the last couple years and a good number of breweries around are very young as a result.  Howe Sound is not one of those breweries.  They have been making unique, delicious and characteristically large (other than this beer, their stuff comes exclusively in 1L swing tops) beers for as long as I can remember – 1996, to be exact.  Also noteworthy is that John Mitchell, the grandfather of BC craft beer, was called upon to help with both the brewery and the beers in the early days, putting Howe Sound in a good position early on.  Howe Sound is located in Squamish BC, about an hour outside of Vancouver, midway to Whistler.

Howe Sound is also a favourite stop of mine on the way home from Whistler, which happens about a dozen times a year.  I’m generally up there mountain biking, so coming through I’m tired and probably smelly and dirty too.  The food is tasty and the beer of course awesome also.  The place is rather impressive itself – not the kind of establishment a brewery can typically afford here in Vancouver.

Woolly Bugger has been brewed for at least the last couple years; I’m not sure what the first year was (might be 2011).  Packed full of pale, crystal, cara, chocolate and special B malts and on the hops side there’s nugget, fuggles and goldings hops.  The bottle gives us a full spectrum of the beer’s statistics:  25 degrees plato, 75 IBU, 1.106 specific gravity and 10.5% ABV.  This is consistent with my claim of “packed full” of grain and hops.

On to my notes:

A: The beer appears a very dark crimson brown that appears nearly black.  The head is big, quite thick with good retention, and light brown in colour.

S: The smell of this beer is amazing. Caramel and vanilla sweetness, some citrus and red fruit (orange, plum, cherry), a bit of molasses.  Sweet but earthy.

T: First reaction is wow this has a big, grainy body.  Malty coating with fig, plum, and powerful earthy hops.  Bitterness is moderate, showing the freshness of the beer.  Alcohol heat is also quite prominent, though not harsh.  Just a heck of a winter warmer.

M: Thick!  Almost a grainy texture.  Carbonation is good.

O: The taste is very good and the smell is sublime.  I had heard that the 2013 ‘Bugger is very good already (Barleywines often do well to have some age on them) and I don’t disagree, though Woolly never attempted to hide the fact that it is a big, big beer.  I got a little carried away with the number of bottles I purchased so I look forward to revisiting this brew each year for the next few years, including future ‘Bugger verticals.  I have a feeling I might like this beer more with a year or two on it, though I like it a lot already – this year’s batch is really great!

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