Barrel aging adds complexity to a beer. It also adds to the time it takes to create the beer, and to the costs. Often, it is worth it.
The family tasted two really good local examples over the holidays.
I found Shipyard’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Prelude while we were shopping at Whole Foods, and I immediately grabbed a bottle. The regular Prelude is one of my favorite Shipyard beers, and I am beginning to think it might even top Old Thumper. It is a good, rich seasonal ale with a nice mahogany color and a bit of toffee in the flavor. It doesn’t have any spices, just good malt flavor with a mild hopping and 6.7 percent alcohol.
I spent $14.49 for bottle No. 580 — Shipyard released only 600 cases of the 750-milliliter cork-and-cage bottles — and put it away until we had people with whom to share.
A couple of days later, I caught part of the Shipyard hour on the afternoon sports talk show on WJAB, and someone from Shipyard said the beer picked up extra alcohol during the barrel-aging process.
When I got home, I noticed that the Bourbon Barrel Aged Prelude comes in at 9.7 percent alcohol, which seemed like quite a jump.
Six people had part of this beer as the second beer of the night before a family dinner, and everyone loved it. The bourbon flavor come through quite strongly, and Tami Kennedy, Shipyard’s spokeswoman, said the beer definitely did pick up some alcohol from the bourbon barrels.
This was a very good sipping beer, although it did not taste like a beer with almost 10 percent alcohol. We tasted it at about 40 degrees — it was being kept in the garage before the weather turned cold (our adjunct refrigerator during the winter) — and it probably should have been a bit warmer. But it was still a wonderfully complex beer.
Kennedy said late last week that supplies of the barrel-aged Prelude are running low, but there were still some at the Shipyard Gift Store, 86 Newbury St., Portland.
If you miss out on the Prelude, the next beer in Shipyard’s bourbon-barrel-aged series will be coming out the middle of this month, Kennedy said.
This will be a double Scottish ale with 11.4 percent alcohol, brewed with some Munich and Torrified wheat as well as roasted and chocolate barley. Kennedy said Shipyard will release about 1,200 cases of this beer, so it might stay on the shelves a little bit longer.
I FOUND a cork-and-caged bottle of Rising Tide Polaris for $8.50 when I stopped in at Tully’s Beer & Wine in Wells, and I was glad to get it.
When I picked up Thanksgiving growlers of Rising Tide, I found out the Polaris would be coming out during the three weeks that Nancy and I were out of Maine, and I was afraid I wouldn’t get any.
Polaris is Rising Tide’s Ursa Minor wheat stout aged for five months in Jim Beam bottles, and the company released only 960 bottles this year. Last year, it brewed 336 bottles, but they were 22 ounces, compared with the 12.7 ounces this year.
The bourbon flavor did not come out as strongly in the Polaris as it did in the Prelude, but there was a good bit of oakiness that went well with the bread-yeast flavor you get with the Ursa Minor. I liked this beer last year, and like it just as much this year.
GOING BACK a bit, son-in-law Christian bought three Baltika beers for Thanksgiving, and they were all interesting.
I enjoyed the Baltika 6 Baltic Porter, especially because I was able to taste it head-to-head with Bunker’s Baltic Porter, which was on hand, and the Bull Jagger Baltic Porter No. 19, which I had tasted recently.
Baltic porters are like English porters, except they use bottom-fermenting lager yeast instead of top-fermenting ale yeast.
I liked all three Baltic porters, but the Baltika stood out because it was sweeter and had more of a malt flavor. The Baltika was more striking as a sipping beer, but I don’t think it would go as well with food.
Baltika 5, Gold beer is lager-brewed with both pale and caramel malts. It was fairly intense and a little sweet, with a nicely rich mouthfeel and 5.3 percent alcohol.
Baltika 7, Export beer, was 5.4 percent alcohol, a pale lager and much crisper than the Gold. I would prefer that one in the summer.
Christian said the three beers and a Baltika glass cost $25 at Oak Hill Beverage in Scarborough.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: