Ladies and gentlemen, we have finally reached the boozy, oaky, barrel-aged conclusion.
Revolution Brewing's ongoing release of eight barrel-aged beers this winter, all in four-packs of 12-ounce cans, ended Friday with the last three entries: Straight Jacket (barleywine aged in bourbon barrels), Mineshaft Gap (barleywine aged in cognac barrels) and Double Barrel V.S.O.D. (imperial oatmeal stout aged two years in a variety of barrels and blended).
Though the beers have been consistently good -- and sometimes elite -- it's the brewery's approach to the release of what it calls its Deep Wood Series that has been most revelatory.
Most obvious is the packaging. The 12-ounce cans that debuted this year were a bold and unlikely move for such precious and pricey beer. But Revolution's brewers have credited the format for keeping the beer fresher and more consumer friendly. I certainly agree on the latter; 12 ounces of a boozy barrel-aged beer is far more realistic and appealing on a frigid winter night than the 25-, 22- or 16.9-ounce vessels in which such beers are typically trafficked.
Then there is the scope. Releasing eight different barrel-aged beers across multiple months is also unusually ambitious. Until recently, barrel-aged beer releases in Chicago have largely been about Goose Island's iconic day-after-Thanksgiving Bourbon County release. This year, Deep Wood's boozy, flavorful wonderland has been every bit of Bourbon County's rival. That's nothing but good news for consumers.
We'll continue to see Revolution's model going forward -- if not expanded.
"Deep Wood Series beers will definitely be in four-packs of 12-ounce cans again next year," Revolution's chief financial officer Doug Veliky said. "I'd say that eight beers over three releases will be the minimum for next season, with the potential to do as many as 10 beers over four releases."
The reaction has been favorable, he said, and spreading out the releases across several months offers practical benefits for both brewers and drinkers.
"If we released all eight at once, it would be overwhelming for us and probably our fans as well," Veliky said. "Multiple releases help spread out the major time investment of emptying barrels, quality control, and packaging across multiple months, instead of weeks."
As for the last batch of this winter's Deep Wood beers, sales begin 4 p.m. Friday at Revolution's brewery (3340 N. Kedzie Ave.). Straight Jacket four-packs will cost $25 (no limit), Mineshaft Gap will cost $35 (limit four per person) and Double Barrel V.S.O.D will cost $35 (limit two per person.) Previous releases from this season will also be available: Deth's Tar ($25, no limit), V.S.O.D. ($30, no limit) and Cafe Deth ($30, no limit). Previous releases of Deth by Cherries and Ryeway to Heaven are sold out.
As it has with earlier releases, Revolution will also tap eight limited-edition barrel-aged beers, including the versions of Deth's Tar finished in Woodford Double Oak and Whistle Pig 10-year Rye barrels that were blended into the final version of Double Barrel V.S.O.D. (Be sure to try the Double Barrel V.S.O.J. Cherry Rye -- Straight Jacket aged two years in bourbon and rye whiskey barrels with cherries. Yowza.)
If you're not quite ready to bid farewell to Deep Wood, the brewery also will tap five versions of fruited Deth's Tar on Feb. 8 -- with currant, plums, blackberries, raspberries and boysenberries -- in a bid to decide which version goes into cans next winter. Attendees will be able to rank the beers to help choose the variant that replaces Deth by Cherries in cans. (Based on social media response, Deth by Currants seems to be the early leader.)
As for the new beers, I tasted through them this week. Here are my thoughts:
Straight Jacket (13.1 percent alcohol)
Of the eight canned Deep Wood beers this winter, this is among the gems. Endless gorgeous layers of flavor and aroma -- raisin, plum, toffee, caramel, molasses, maple and vanilla -- merge into one decadent, yet tidy conclusion. Among the key components is just enough dryness and bitterness to balance the finish and make the beer stunningly accessible for that high alcohol content.
One of December's releases, Ryeway to Heaven, offered a similar profile -- especially loads of maple -- but finished with a long, sweet finish. Straight Jacket is the other side of the barrel-aged barleywine coin.
Mineshaft Gap (14.3 percent)
Very, very interesting.
Mineshaft Gap is the same base beer as Straight Jacket, but goes into wholly different barrels -- cognac, as opposed to bourbon -- and the result is a wholly different beer. It results in what will likely be the most polarizing entry in this year's Deep Wood catalog.
Revolution brewer Marty Scott, who manages the barrel aging program, called Mineshaft Gap "the most grown up" of the roster. It's oaky, boozy and bitter with just enough dark fruitiness -- and maybe a touch of cocoa -- working against a lightly astringent finish. The base beer that's amplified by bourbon barrels in Straight Jacket struggles somewhat to show itself against the cognac barrels.
It took a few sips to know how I felt about Mineshaft Gap, but I ultimately decided that I not only have no problem with it, I also applaud its inventive nature. It's a clean, interesting and well-made. My suggestion: build a fire and light a cigar (if that's your thing) and sip this sipper.
While barrel-aging has veered toward shoving sugary adjuncts into these rich and boozy beers, Deep Wood has gone heavily into experimenting with barrels. This is among the most striking examples. It might take you a year to get through the four-pack, but it's worth it.
Double Barrel V.S.O.D. (17 percent)
This imperial oatmeal stout was brewed in 2015, then spent one year in bourbon barrels and a second year in a combination of the aforementioned Woodford Reserve Double Oaked and 10-year-old WhistlePig Rye barrels before being blended into this behemoth.
Like the version of V.S.O.D. released last month, this beer could stand a bit more oomph in the body, especially with that whopping degree of alcohol. Here's the thing, though: The flavor is absolutely gorgeous -- a melange of dark chocolate, blueberry and vanilla (all of which comes simply from the barrels).
After mentioning that more body would serve the beer well, Scott unfurled a neat trick: He blended about one-third Straight Jacket and two-thirds Double Barrel V.S.O.D. into a glass. Voila -- fruity, silky, roasty, robust, and secret ninth Deep Wood beer.
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