Eleven beers, 11 barrels, two culinary entities -- one amazing barrel-aged collaboration. It's not every day that a brewing company pairs up with a cocktail bar, but when it happens, it can end with amazing results. Take the Evil Twin and The Aviary collaboration, a series of barrel-aged beers unlike anything we've tried before.
In its first beer project, The Aviary teamed up with Evil Twin to brew one Belgian golden strong ale, and age them in different barrels that once held spirits. And no, not just bourbon barrels -- we're talking tequila, brandy, and Scotch. Oh, yes. Their hypothesis? The different barrels would impart subtle, unique flavors to the beer.
The Aviary and Evil Twin released 11 different beers, which went on sale in February 2013. After a trip to Chicago and a near scavenger hunt, we were able to gather nine of the 11 beers in the collaboration. The brews made for one spirited, outlandish tasting -- try guessing which beers are aged in which barrels, as we did, and you'll be guessing forever. Two notes we immediately made: all nine of the beers are roughly the same golden color, with only the slightest variation between light gold to an amber. (If you taste them, be sure to really mark them carefully as to not confuse them -- because it's very easy to do so.) The second note: all beers were 9 percent ABV. (Livers be forewarned.) Therefore, we had no real discernible hints as to which barrels were used in which beer. It made us rely on our sense of smell and taste all the more. Nevertheless, the collaboration makes for an interesting tasting experiment we won't soon forget. Our notes on the beers:
Barrel: Plantation rum barrels
Wild yeast was easy to detect upon first smell (which we suspect could have been an unsuspecting yeast strain); other notes we picked up were hard cider, elderflower, and stone fruits. The appearance reminded us of a hard cider, too, roughly the same color. The taste was immediately reminiscent of applejack brandy, which definitely tricked us when guessing the barrel. Still, the beer's pleasant sweet-and-sour flavors, plus big carbonation, reminded us of a crisp saison.
Barrel: Parker Heritage Bourbon
Looking at it, you'd have thought you poured a few ounces of Scotch into our tasting glasses, about the same hue as our favorite brown spirit. (One of our favorite brown spirits, anyways.) The similar bourbon aromas gave this one away almost immediately. We detected aromas of vanilla, maple, and banana, but what really wowed us was the big, bright, coconut-y taste. What is this, a Pina Colada disguised as a beer? The cloying sweetness was a turn-off for some, but others couldn't get enough of that creamy confection.
9% ABVBarrel: Laird's Applejack brandy
If #1 smelled and tasted like applejack brandy, we were sniffed out by #3. Smelling #3 was basically like sticking your nose in a freshly cut Granny Smith apple, very sweet yet tart. (And the beer could easily be confused with a glass of apple juice, going off appearance alone.) The beer tasted a bit like applejack brandy, too; with a residual sweetness and sherry notes starting out and a sour aftertaste.
Barrel: Elijah Craig bourbon
Whoa, nelly: this amber-colored beer gave off a super boozy aroma, making us think it had to have a higher ABV than 9 percent. It was straight acetone on the nose, which gave way to a very alcoholic taste, too. In fact, there wasn't much more to the taste than straight booze, making us suspect that it was aged in bourbon barrels.
Barrel: Clynelish Scotch
Perhaps because we usually associate peat with Scotch, we were all surprised by the Scotch barrels used in #6. What we detected in the aroma were more notes of wild yeast, bubblegum, and lots of residual sugars. The slightly golden beer too had a sweet and sour flavor, though a dryer mouthfeel than the previous beers.
Barrel: Casa Nobles extra añejo tequila
At least there was one beer in the series that we were able to guess the barrel correctly. Smelling #7 reminded us of fresh margaritas, and the flavors only made us want to run to our closest Mexican restaurant for a dash of salt, tequila, and lime. Notes of agave came through clearly in the taste, but the taste even slightly resembled a sour pisco. It was easily the most distinct of the beers we had sampled so far.
9% ABVBarrel: Pierre Ferrand cognac
In this case, too, it was easier to identify the barrels used in this dark, copper-hued beer. Maple, raisins, cognac were all detectable in both the aroma and flavors; we dreamed of drinking this in a big brown arm chair surrounded by leatherbound books, à la Anchorman.
Blend of all 10 beers
This beer had us guessing, too. Turns out, this slightly darker beer was a blend of all 11 beers, one of which was aged in Laphroaig barrels (#5, which we did not get to try); that one beer in the blend overwhelmed all other aromas. After all, a super peated whisky would in fact make for a super smoky, peated aroma in a beer. In taste, the beer was reminiscent of peat, but also smoke, campfires, and even a dash of mezcal. (Mezcal next time, guys?)