Friday, January 23, 2015

Tasting Deep Ellum's barrel-aged, bronze medal brew

Image credit: Deep Ellum Brewing Company
It was just over a year ago that the Deep Ellum Brewing Company released Four Swords for the first time. A Belgian quadrupel brewed in the monastic tradition, its classical styling represented a subtle departure for a brewery that once burst out of the gates bent on "total beer domination."

That said, Four Swords wasn't for the faint of heart. It was still a big beer, with bold flavors and an ABV of 9.5%, but it wasn't brash, and maybe for the first time we talked about a beer from Deep Ellum and called it conventional. For me, at least, it was one of the brewery's best efforts to date, a sentiment seemingly confirmed when the beer won a bronze medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup.

Of course, Four Swords returned this year, it having already been released to retail, but a portion of last year's batch was held back. Those remnants have been resting along the back wall of the brewery in Cabernet red wine barrels from the French-inspired Calais Winery (currently relocating to Hye, Texas). The result is Barrel Aged Four Swords, and while it may have the bones of the base beer, what's emerged from the barrels is something else altogether.

What was once a beer I would classify as characteristically quad, Four Swords has now "changed drastically" according to had brewer Jeremy Hunt. Back when I reviewed the original in December 2013, I took note of the beer's dark fruit intensity, along with flavors of caramel, cocoa and burnt brown sugar. While those elements still exist after time spent in the barrels, they do so in noticeably different proportions.

Rich, layered caramel now fronts the beer, which drinks much like that of a vintage port. Barrels add faint wood tones, while the cocoa comes across as being more of a lightly sweet chocolate. As for the ester profile attributable to the yeast, it isn't quite as evident as it once was, but grapes and ripe cherry provide a sort of fruit filling. This, as it turns out, works together with the carbonation and a burst of vanilla to give it a refreshing quality not typically found in a quad. The beer is still a sipper, mind you, given its lingering warmth and full-bodied nature, but that little flourish of fruit gives this barrel-aged brew...for lack of a better phrase...a certain "je ne sais quoi". It's something you'll crave into the beer's finish, as mild tannins dry out the palate and leave you eager for the next sip.

Comparing the barrel treatment to the starter beer feels a little like pitting apples against oranges in light of how different the two are, but there's one thing you can surely say about both. Four Swords was a good beer in the beginning, and it's a good beer out of the barrel. Moreover, it's got balance, it's got strength, and it's a little bit sweet, but what I like best is that it's a welcome change from the growing ubiquity of bourbon beers.

Barrel Aged Four Swords will be sold at retail starting today, January 23, in wax-dipped 12-ounce bottles. A total of 2100 were produced, meaning it will be available for a limited time only. Look for it wherever you typically find Deep Ellum's seasonal and/or specialty brews.

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