Friday, February 27, 2015

A taste of Ranger Creek's new Texas Bourbon Barrel series

The first of Ranger Creek's new Bourbon
Barrel line of beers (Brian Brown).

When Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling opened its doors in late 2010, it became the first business of its kind in the State of Texas. Being part brewery, part distillery, it was only natural to assume that barrel-aged beers would become a mainstay of their portfolio. Indeed, in the years that have followed, the brewing side of the business has put out a handful of these types of beers, but up until now there hasn't been anything along the lines of a recurring barrel-aged offering. That's expected to change, however, with the introduction of the brewery's new Texas Bourbon Barrel series.

According to co-owner Mark McDavid, a regular or year-round bourbon barrel beer has always been part of the plan. Sharing what could be thought of as a company motto, he says he and his fellow partners are "most intrigued and excited by products that showcase the relationship between beer and whiskey." As to why develop a standalone series now, as opposed to in the past, it has as much to do with timing as it does a desire to build on the success of prior barrel-aged brews like Small Batch Series Nos. 4 and 5.

At the same time, McDavid explains that the idea also has roots in the belief that "the coolness and uniqueness of using our own barrels just wasn't being highlighted enough." Of course, Ranger Creek's ultimate goal is to one day be able to use in-house barrels exclusively when aging their beer. "We do that as much as possible now," he adds, "but we're still small so we need to supplement our own barrels." For the Texas Bourbon Barrel series debut, that meant adding Four Roses vessels to a mix that included their own Rimfire and .44 Rye barrels.

An Imperial Brown kicked off the series in late January, with the underlying style choice being motivated by a wish to do something other than yet another bourbon barrel stout. "We like to do things that people recognize, but do them a little differently to keep people interested," McDavid says, "so we thought an Imperial brown ale would be delicious, but also intriguing." Based on public reception, consumers would seem to agree.

As for my own impressions, I found the beer to be sweet and warm with a nice bit of nuance to go with what most would consider a slightly bourbon-forward brew. The primary flavors consist of toffee, caramel, roasted malt and dark fruit, but there are secondary notes of oak and a nutty character which develops over time as well. A vanilla essence fills out the finish, with mild carbonation and a soft palate working to enhance the overall drinkability.

From a technical point of view, Ranger Creek's Imperial Brown is strong, but it maintains balance and there's not a feeling that the barrel influence overtakes the beer. Then again, the primary reason to brew an "imperialized" version of a brown ale prior to barrel aging is to ensure just such a thing doesn't happen. As far as execution goes, I think Ranger Creek has done well here in that regard.

Looking ahead, Ranger Creek is testing new recipes before settling on what will be the next Texas Bourbon Barrel release. Whatever that beer turns out to be, the brewery hopes to have it out by mid-to-late summer. Until then, take note that bottles of Imperial Brown are still on sale at some retail locations around North Texas. As always, check with your local bottle for availability.

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