Written by Tom Becham
I have two very “big” beers to review today.
The first is from one of my all-time favorite brewers, The Bruery. Quadrupel Tonnellerie is a Belgian-style quadruple, with blackberries added. It weighs in at a surprising 10.2% ABV. This beer pours a dark maroon-russet, with a small, fizzy, short-lived head. The nose is strong berries, with a back note of dark, caramel malt. The taste is rather surprising, as the maltiness of the beer – which is considerable – is entirely overwhelmed after a very brief appearance. After that appearance, this beer is predominantly berries on the palate, with a touch of sourness. The finish is entirely blackberries. If you like dark fruit beers, you’ll love this one. It conceals its strength masterfully.
The next beer is from Midnight Sun Brewing in Anchorage, Alaska. Arctic Devil Barley Wine. This beer was part of a care package brought to me by family in Alaska, over a year ago. All the other beers have been consumed, of course, but I had saved this one, as it sports a truly massive 13.4% ABV. I figured a bit of bottle age on this powerhouse would smooth out the flavors a bit. Especially since this one is aged in bourbon barrels.
I may not have needed to take that precaution.
Midnight Sun describes Arctic Devil as an English-style Barley Wine, which means it is much more malt-oriented and less hoppy than Barley Wines most Americans might expect. This one pours with a small tan, cloudy head, which dissipates rather quickly.
The aroma of Arctic Devil obviously is strong on bourbon, but also very full of caramel, bready malts. The malt sugars actuallymanage to overpower the bourbon after a few seconds, then become very bold.
Upon tasting, the star of Arctic Devil is the extremely skillful use of strong malt presence. Indeed, the only English-style Barley wine I have tasted which is better than this one is the genuine article, Thomas Hardy’s Ale. It’s malt, malt, malt, in forms of caramel, molasses, black bread, and hints of dark stone fruits and even raw graininess. Hints of vanilla and a bourbon burn just lick lightly at the edges of the tongue. The alcohol is a very slight burn, and this beer drinks like one of perhaps half the ABV. Truly, Arctic Devil shows that Midnight Sun are masters in the use of malt. While hop get all the glory in today’s world of craft beer, I find that use of malt is more a measure of a brewer’s expertise.
In all, I recommend both Quadrupel Tonnellerie and Arctic Devil. Both are excellent in their particular niches.
Tom Becham has been writing for PGA for many years. In fact he’s been writing so long he wears the hat to cover baldness, or the antenna that grow out of elderly Martian’s heads: we’re not sure which, but we’re glad he writes for us.