Confusing. That’s how I describe Kentucky Ale’s Bourbon Barrel Barleywine.
I really wanted to love this seasonal offering from Alltech. I mean I really wanted to love it. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I do. The best explanation I can give is that the beer itself is confused as to what it’s trying to be.
Barleywine, in the English tradition, is a very strong ale with earthy qualities ranging from toffee and caramel to dark malts. The American varieties tend more towards a simple high-hop ale with fruity characteristics. I suppose the Kentucky Ale version is geared directly towards the American take. It’s 10% ABV, and pours a copperish-red hue with a pale tan, almost white head. Moderately carbonated, the ale is extremely light and very hoppy, adding a bittnerness that marks it clearly American style.
However, this is also aged in bourbon barrels. Typically, I would expect that to add a sweetness to the flavor and a distinct bourbon aroma to the nose. I found neither. In fact, I’m not entirely sure that the bourbon barrel aging added anything at all to the beer. It tastes largely like a high ABV dark ale. In fact, I’m not sure that it even strikes me as a barleywine in flavor. It lacks finesse and depth. It’s very dry and crisp, as well, and while some prefer that in their beers, I find it confusing in a barleywine, particularly a bourbon aged barleywine. Where is the richness? Where is the decadence?
Overall, the appearance of this beer is outstanding. But it falls short in delivering the whole tasting experience. For $15 per 4-pack, that’s a tough pill to swallow.