I've heard a lot of questions from people about how much a barrel actually changes a specific beer, of if there is a defined difference between the regular version and it's barrel aged counterpart. The answer is yes, there is a difference but it depends on how long the beer was in the barrel and what type of barrels were used. Having a barrel aged stout without having the base beer is a lot like seeing a room painted a certain color without being able to see how it previously looked. You loose that sense of appreciation, or understanding, of the significant change (or lack there of). Being able to taste the two side by side can really illustrate how much a beer can be effected by time in a barrel. Since this entry marks the one year mark of Cellared, why not make it a twofer and explore this difference between the barrel and non barrel versions of a well made imperial stout.

As I open the regular version, the smell is really heavy on cocoa. More to the bitter, sweet dark cocoa. Roasted grains and some biscuit mix a little with a slight leather aroma. There is a bit of caramel and some coffee that come through, while the remainder of the smell is made up of dark fruits like fig and faint black cherry. Although this isn't barrel aged, there is a hint of some wood and earthy notes. There really is no sign of booze in the nose, which for 11%, I expected a little.

The taste has a lot going on and follows the nose pretty well. Unlike the smell, the alcohol is quite evident in the taste. Dry dark cocoa brings both sweetness and bitterness up front. Coffee and caramel follow fruits and fig. You can taste the grains, both light caramel and the roasted black malts. There isn't much as far as specific hop notes, but the bitterness still weighs in pretty well in order to balance out the sweetness. Some molasses and licorice come around at the end of the taste and the lingering aftertaste is that of chocolate and coffee ground dust.

This is a real full bodied beer that is smooth and almost chewy. It does very well with time, but even from the year and the sweetness being what it is, I'm almost afraid that too much time would make this a sweet ended malt bomb. There are a lot of wonderful flavors in this stout that don't make it an overall complex beer to drink, but there is enough present to make it an enjoyable sipper. It develops over the time that it sits in your glass.

The bourbon barrel version has a huge waft of bourbon and oak right as you open it. The sweet notes of the bourbon and the wooded earthiness of the oak are fantastic, especially when paired with the cocoa and caramel from the base beer. The bourbon actually helps to emphasize the dark fruits and heightens the candied fig quality. Molasses, biscuit and slight coffee also exist and are wrapped up in the ever present booze.

The taste is strong and very rich. The bourbon oak plays a huge difference in the flavor. The dominant flavors in the base were caramel, fig and cocoa and while those are still present, they play second fiddle to the sweet caramelized bourbon and wood. This hits off really big with booze and flavorful notes, but mellows very well into a full bodied, oily stout that leaves you with coffee and raisin at the end. The immediate taste is almost intense, and it makes you wonder how much more intense it could get, but it doesn't. The intensity dies down almost immediately and the layers of flavors in the beers start to come through.

Even though both of these beers could age a bit longer, I would only say that the barrel aged version would probably benefit from a little more time. This would give the bourbon and alcohol to mellow a little bit more and not be as prevalent. How it drinks now, after a year, is wonderful, but I think it could easily become more balanced with a little more time.


Our CELLARED series aims to explore the world of aging beer and sharing the effects of time in the bottle. Bottles have been kept away from light and at temperatures between 44-60 degrees. Individual experiences may vary depending on storage environments.

Posted on January 16, 2015 .