5 Bourbon Barrel Aged Stouts That Will Warm You Up

It’s February in Minnesota. It’s cold. It’s snowy. I had the feeling today as I drove to the dog park that I was driving through the photos you see of Northern Canada or Alaska. The ones where you are so far north the trees no longer grow and the towns are just a collection of buildings. The only colors are blue sky and white snow. There’s snow on the road, snow on the buildings, snow on the few plants you can still see peeking out. Six foot piles along the sides of every driveway. The debris from too few snow plows lining roads that are becoming increasingly narrow.

I guess they don’t call it Minnesnowta for nothing.

But there is good news. There is a cure for the deep-set chill of a Minnesota winter. Beer. Strong, dark beer. Beer that is chocolatey or wine-like. Beer so thick you might be forgiven for thinking that you are actually drinking bread. 

But, you might be asking yourself, this is a bourbon blog? Well, don’t you worry your pretty little head about that. The result of a barrel only being able to be used once to make bourbon is a lot of used barrels. Just because many of them go to Scotland or Canada to age their fine whiskies, doesn’t mean that all of them leave the country. There is a demand among small brewers for bourbon barrels to help age their beers as well. What follows are five beers that have been aged in bourbon barrels. And because it is the dead of winter, and we all need it, each of them are sweet, strong stouts. 

Each of these were poured in identical tulip shaped glasses and tasted one at a time over the course of a single day. I’m rating them with the 1-5 style rating I used in Untappd when I checked them in.

Brewers Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout

Style: American Imperial Stout

Brewery: Central Waters Brewing Company. Amherst, WI

Purchase Info: Purchased at Viking Liquor Barrel, Prior Lake, MN  

ABV: 9.5%

Initial Thoughts: Pours with a thick milk chocolate colored head.

Nose: Dark and fruity with wine-like qualities. After a bit that fades to be replaced with chocolatey cereal notes.

Mouth: Moderately thick mouthfeel with a good bit of carbonation. Fruity and sweet with a big hit of alcohol flavor. 

Final Thoughts: I could taste that this was a high ABV beer before I looked at it. The alcohol flavor was that strong. The more I tasted of this, the less I liked it. I don’t know that I would want more than one of these in a session. 

Rating: 3/5

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout

Style: American Stout

Brewery: Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company, Lexington, KY

Purchase Info: Purchased at Liquor Barn, Lexington, KY  

ABV: 8%

Nose: Sour. Cooked cereal. Corn chips.

Mouth: Thin in the mouth. Nice carbonation. Nicely balanced sweetness and bitterness with hints of coffee and chocolate.

Final Thoughts: Balanced. Not heavy. Unlike many stouts, I could drink more than one of these in a session. Being a higher ABV beer, this is dangerously drinkable. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout

Style: Oatmeal Stout

Brewery: Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Booneville, CA

Purchase Info: Purchased at Casanova Liquors, Hudson, WI  

ABV: 6.9%

Initial Thoughts: Pours with a nice thick head.

Nose: Dark and fruity. Red wine. Then malty cereals

Mouth: Acidic. It bubbles and froths in the mouth as if it’s making more head on your tongue. finishes with acid bitterness and malt.

Final Thoughts: This barrel-aged stout is more acidic than most, almost a sour. I think this would be more refreshing on a hot summer day than most stouts due to that. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Bourbon Sidamo

Style: American Imperial Stout

Brewery: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Richmond, VA

Purchase Info: Purchased at Total Wine and More, Richmond, VA  

ABV: 10.3%

Initial Thoughts: Looks thick on pouring.

Nose: Sweet maltiness that fades quickly. Chocolate.

Mouth: Thick. Initially chocolatey. Finishes wine-like with an alcohol sharpness.

Final Thoughts: This proves that aging doesn’t always work . This doesn’t taste aged, it tastes old. I’d like to try the non-barrel aged version of this to see how it compares. 

Rating: 2.5/5

Dark Hollow

Style: American Imperial Stout

Brewery: Blue Mountain Brewery, Afton, VA

Purchase Info: Purchased at Corks & Kegs, Richmond, VA  

ABV: 10%

Initial Thoughts: Pours with zero head.

Nose: Cereal maltiness initially. After sitting a bit: dark fruit.

Mouth:Nice and thick with very little carbonation. Sweet fruit balances bitterness with a hint of smoke.

Final Thoughts: Everything is working here. The fruity flavors balance the bitterness with just the right hint of smoke. High ABV but drinkable, with no alcohol flavor. As I initially stated when I first tasted it: “This might be the best beer I’ve ever had. It’s at least in the conversation.”

Rating: 5/5

Beer is an amazingly adaptable drink. It is highly influenced by your glassware and what you serve it with. Wine flavors when imbibed on its own might give way to chocolate flavors when served with food. The Central Waters one did that with pizza after the tasting was done. If you just take a sip, you might like it better than if you are spending time with it. The Hardywood did that for me as I tried to finalize my rankings. Ultimately what you like is highly influenced by how, where and with whom you drink it. On a cold, snowy night in Minnesota, all of these are good enough to warm you up.