To me, the best consequence of the saturation of the craft beer market over the last seven or so years with beers aged in whiskey barrels has been the saturation of the craft beer market with beers aged in whiskey barrels. Whiskey barrels—specifically American bourbon barrels—are, in my opinion, the best wooden vessels by a wide margin to age beer in after fermentation. Bourbon just seems best fitted of all the liquors to complement beer, for reasons I thought about taking a stab at explaining, only to find myself at a total loss to do so. I just know that it works, and has ever since Goose Island Brewing Company first put an imperial stout in a handful of Jim Beam barrels in 1992.
The second-best consequence of bourbon-barrel beer proliferation, though, is that the more creative brewers out there have moved on to other sorts of casks to enhance their beers. I know, I know: I just said that bourbon barrels are the best barrels for beer. But they’re not the best barrels for every beer, including some of my very favorites. Victory couldn’t have made White Monkey without white wine barrels, and Avery couldn’t have made Black Tot without rum barrels, and trust me: Those beers are fucking amazing. These sorts of barrels are less inherently beer-friendly, though. A red wine barrel can easily make a stout or barleywine overly astringent; the rare gin barrel can make a saison overly botanical or just plain bitter, and honestly, tequila barrels almost always make a beer taste dirty to me. But I will always try these kinds of beers, because to me they represent experimentation, and not the rote sort of paint-by-numbers, fail-till-it-works brand of experimentation that I see so often in the endless march of single-hop IPAs. And when the beer in question is a brandy-barrel aged Belgian-style quadrupel from Lakewood Brewing in Garland, TX, I will try it faster than you can say, “We have a new beer from Lakewood.”
I don’t know very much about brandy. I think I’ve drunk straight brandy once in my life, on a plane, and it knocked me the hell out. I understand it’s made from fermented fruit, and frequently (but not always) from wine. I do know about Lakewood Brewing Company, which is or soon will be celebrating its fourth anniversary, and has released, to mark the occasion, Lion’s Share IV, a Belgian-style quad aged in brandy barrels. Lakewood brews one of the best stouts in all of Texas, a delectable imperial vanilla milk stout dubbed The Temptress, and doesn’t stop there: Lakewood makes French Quarter Temptress with chicory and—get this—coffee beans aged in bourbon barrels; Mole Temptress, with chile peppers, cacao, and cinnamon; the self-explanatory Raspberry Temptress; and, to what I’m sure will be the respective joy and chagrin of the good and evil factions of DFO’s ancient cookie war, Sin Mint Temptress, with mint and graham cracker. I won’t belabor the point further; Lakewood’s good as hell. Let’s get into the beer.
If there are points to be handed out for presentation, Lakewood gets them. Lion’s Share IV comes packaged in a fancy-ass cardboard box, with a slick minimalist label on the bottle itself. There’s a delightful quotation on one side of the box, attributed to one of Aesop’s fables, that I just have to reprint in full:
“I take the first portion because of my title, since I am addressed as king;
The second portion you will assign to me, since I’m your partner;
Then because I am the stronger, the third will follow me;
And an accident will happen to anyone who touches the fourth.”
The beer itself is a murky amber brown with a dense head. It’s a rich, dessert-like ale, with lots of caramel and hints of cinnamon, apple, just the barest trace of cherry, and… maybe dates? I may just be imagining that I know what dates taste like, or really even have ever eaten a date in my entire life. But maybe it tastes like dates! This isn’t the richness of a bourbon-barrel beer, though; it doesn’t have that overwhelming chocolate-vanilla-toasty profile. (There’s vanilla there, of course, as there really ought to be in any beer aged on wood, but it’s relatively subtle.) Again, I love that profile, I think it’s basically the best, but it’s not here and I also think that’s great! This is more along the lines of your fruit-based desserts, your apple or cherry pie, than your tiramisu or crème brûlée. It’s a stellar melding of a base beer known for dark, fruity richness and a liquor with many of the same characteristics, and it passes, with flying colors, my most important test for a barrel-aged beer: I can’t tell where the beer flavors start and the barrel flavors begin, or even whether they show up in that order.
lady snow says: It tastes like a dessert beer. It’s got that sweetness that I associate with Belgian styles. Brandy of course is already an apéritif, or post-prandial tipple, if you will. But this also tastes really strongly to me of toffee. Like, I get a ton of toffee. It reminds me of a Heath bar. We may have to go get some toffee.
make it snow says: Are you driving?
lady snow says: Why, how much have you had to drink?
make it snow says: [gestures in the direction of the other 18oz of Lion’s Share IV]
lady snow says: I feel an Amazon Prime order coming on. Anyway, as I’m sure you know, some wines are categorized as dessert wines.
make it snow says: Sure.
lady snow says: This should be considered a dessert beer. It should be served in restaurants with dessert. Or at home! Or at elegant dinner parties!
lady snow says: [reading the beer description on the box] Boom! Toffee!
make it snow says: I picked up like two of the flavors from that list, vanilla and a bit of cherry. And I said dates, which is pretty close to figs and raisins.
lady snow says: Oh, definitely.
make it snow says: I’m not actually sure I know what toffee tastes like either. The thing you’re talking about registered as caramel for me, I think.
lady snow says: Well, now we absolutely have to make an Amazon Prime order.
tl;dr: Don’t wait for dessert to drink your dessert beers. Start at three in the afternoon like we did.
Grade: Five caramels or five toffees out of five.
make it snow is an alot of beer and football fan. It’s called football, right? It’s been so long. He wrote this review while drinking most of a bomber of Lakewood Lion’s Share IV; lady snow drank the other four ounces. Later tonight, he might talk about Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s new film, in the comments.