Beer and bourbon can take the chill off a cold night this time of year. When both come in the same glass, as with bourbon barrel-aged beers, the combination can be relaxing, if not hypnotic, helping you forget the stress of a long day. The trick is finding a nice balance between each. When you do find it, you have something special. Tyranena Brewing has figured out this formula with its Shaggin' in the Wood Scotch Ale.
What is it? Shaggin' in the Wood Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale from Tyranena Brewing Company of Lake Mills.
Style: Scottish-style beers tend to emphasize malt qualities and give less attention to hops. Scotch ale is distinctive among general Scottish beers, offering richer color that's usually deep bronze, malty sweetness, and an alcohol content that ranges from 6% to 8% ABV. These beers may also be made with peat-smoked malt. In those cases, the ale can exhibit smoky and earthy tones within the aroma and flavor profile.
Background: Shaggin' in the Wood Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale arrived on store shelves in the beginning of February as the latest beer joining Tyranena's "Brewers Gone Wild" series. If you're a regular around the brewery's tasting room in Lake Mills, you might remember the very first version of this beer about four year ago. Last spring, brewery owner and brewmaster Rob Larson offered another limited batch at the brewery. Those earlier renditions allowed him to experiment with blending barrel-aged with non-barrel-aged beer to create the best flavor profile.
Shaggin' in the Wood begins as Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale, which Tyranena introduced in 2009. At the heart of the beer is a Scottish malt called Golden Promise, which lends sweetness and just the right caramel flavor to complement the bourbon and oak. Larson uses a number of oak barrels and ages the beer differently in each, with lengths ranging from a month to a year. That gives him different strengths in the bourbon and oak flavors that are blended with the non-barrel-aged product. This allows him to tweak the flavors to achieve just the right balance, based on his own taste preferences. Larson estimates that about 70% of the beer in Shaggin' in the Wood is from the barrel-aged Scotch Ale.
Larson gets his barrels from several different Kentucky bourbon makers, including Buffalo Trace in Frankfort and Heaven Hill in Bardstown. Because he uses different blends, it's hard to determine the final alcohol level, but expect for it to begin around 7.25% ABV.
Despite the potential for great variation resulting from aging and blending, the beer in bottles is remarkably consistent and indistinguishable from what is served on draught in the brewery's tasting room. Shaggin' in the Wood sells around $10 a four-pack in your favorite store.
A couple of notes: If you like barrel-aged beers, the Tyranena tasting room has a dwindling supply of its Cabernet Brown Ale, which was fermented in California wine barrels for over six months. It's served only at the brewery and will be gone very soon, so it's worth the trip to Lake Mills. Also, the next installment in the Brewers Gone Wild series will be Dirty Old Man, an imperial porter, expected to be out in April.
- Aroma: Soft sweet nose of bourbon and caramel malt.
- Appearance: Clear, ruby bronze. Soft tan head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, bubbly with warmth in the finish.
- Taste: Clean, smooth deep caramel maltiness, light tones of toffee. All that complements the bourbon and oak background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Sweet and warm. A light fruitiness that comes in late over the course of a glass.
Glassware: This is a great sipping beer. To appreciate the flavor nuances, try it in a brandy snifter, allowing it to warm slowly. That will bring out more malt from the beer and also sweetness from the residual bourbon.
Pairs well with: Assertive cheese like Stilton, Gorgonzola, or a favorite Wisconsin blue cheese go well with this ale, as do modestly sweet desserts that have a solid caramel flavor, like crème brulee.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: I almost passed this beer by. While I'm often intrigued by bourbon barrel-aged beers, many go too far with the bourbon. I'm one who normally keeps beer and bourbon purchases separate. However, Shaggin' in the Wood is good example of what bourbon barrel aging can offer. The rich caramel maltiness and hints of peat-smoked malt of the Scotch Ale style eventually dominate the flavor profile. However, the bourbon and oak barrel aging add an accent to the overall sweetness, even leaving subtle hints of vanilla and oak.
While bourbon barrel-aged beers are not my favorite style, this is beer grew on me after a couple of bottles, partly because I think the base ale goes better with the aging, as long as is held in check. To be thoroughly sure, I'll just have to grab another four pack before it goes away for the season.
If you're a Tyranena fan and enjoy its year-round barrel-aged brown ale named Rocky's Revenge, you'll find this one much smoother, more seductive in its sweetness. Shaggin' in the Wood combines the character of the ale and the spirit of the bourbon in an amazing way that still allows the drinker to know he has a beer -- and not a boilermaker.