Greetings folks. It’s time to get educated about good beer. The cool weather brings out the winter warmers in the craft beer industry. Today I offer my insights into two big, dark ales. As always, I admonish you to please read responsibly!
Curley Wolf: Barrelhouse Brewing, Paso Robles, CA. 10.3% ABV
Curly Wolf is the big boy offered by Barrelhouse Brewing in Paso Robles. Never heard of Barrelhouse Brewing? It’s right down the street from Firestone Walker Brewing. Curly Wolf is a Russian Imperial Stout, with maple syrup added to the boil, then aged in bourbon barrels with whole vanilla beans.
Curly Wolf pours black with a ½” light cocoa colored head that fades after abut 45 seconds to a 1/8” ring around the perimeter. The aroma is sweet chocolate and vanilla, but is not strong. The flavor is semi sweet chocolate, vanilla, and bourbon, with notes of coconut, brown sugar, dark fruit, figs, and raisins. These fade to bitter chocolate, licorice and grainy bitterness. The bourbon/vanilla notes, though subdued, linger in the aftertaste, along with hints of cocoa. Alcohol is not detected in the flavor (or aroma).
The carbonation level is low to low-medium. Curly Wolf is surprisingly thin bodied for such a big imperial stout.
As the beer warms, it becomes much more flavorful. Caramel and maple notes emerge mid palate. The chocolate and cocoa come through stronger. The aroma is still a bit neutral, but brown sugar steps up significantly, as does licorice. Alcohol also becomes noticeable in the aroma, but still not in the flavor. The bourbon flavor fades away and licorice increases as it warms.
I sampled Curly Wolf on Sunday 12-09-2018 from a 22 oz. bomber that I bought at Barrelhouse Brewing in February 2018. The bottle was labeled “2017.5 RELEASE”. After purchase, I stored this bottle in my cellar and forgot about it until I noticed it last week.
I’ve had Curly Wolf in the tasting room at Barrehouse on several occasions, and have always enjoyed it immensely. This bottled version was a bit of a disappointment, as the bourbon notes had all but faded away, and the body seemed a little thin. I don’t know if Curly Wolf is better when consumed from a fresh bottle. What I can say is this – I highly recommend Curly Wolf when consumed on premises in the Barrelhouse taproom. A 1½ year old bottle is good, but not great. Next time I pass through Paso Robles I’ll probably buy another bottle of Curly Wolf, but will consume it right away. [Note: I’ve never seen this available for sale in Southern California, so I don’t know how widely it’s distributed.]
CBS: Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI. 11.6% ABV.
“CBS” (Canadian Breakfast Stout) is an Imperial Stout brewed with coffee and chocolate, then aged in maple syrup and bourbon barrels. So let’s get right to it.
CBS pours black with a ¾” light cocoa colored head that fades after about three minutes to a substantial ring around the perimeter and a wisp of foam covering the surface. The aroma is coffee, chocolate and vanilla. The flavor is coffee, sweet chocolate, and vanilla, with just a touch of bourbon. The sweet chocolate is strong mid-palate and early in the aftertaste, then fades to coffee, cocoa and vanilla, followed by notes of maple and bourbon, with a slight bitterness in the lingering aftertaste. Alcohol is not noted in the flavor.
CBS is medium thick and silky smooth. Carbonation level is low, but enough to prevent this from being syrupy. The substantial ring and thin covering lasted throughout the session, and it left nice lacing in the tulip glass.
CBS warms up nicely. The aroma is a little sweeter, with more vanilla and just a touch of alcohol, but coffee remains front and center. The flavor is also sweeter and very chocolaty. At no time is alcohol detected in the flavor, but I notice a pleasant warming on the back end as it approaches room temperature. The aftertaste remains the same.
CBS is excellent. In fact, I would rate this as a world-class beer. I liked it so much I bit the bullet and bought another bottle to enjoy on a future occasion. It’s only available in November and December, so if you want some, you better get off your couch and get over to a discriminating retail outlet to buy yourself a bottle or two (drink one now, age the other one). As an aside, if you can’t get your hands on a bottle of CBS, look for a six-pack of Founders Breakfast Stout. It’s an excellent coffee-oatmeal stout (8.3% ABV) at a reasonable price.
I HIGHLY recommend CBS – it’s worth every penny ($24.99 for a 22 oz. bomber at Total Wine). I also recommend Curly Wolf, with the caveat noted above (get it in the taproom). It’s not widely distributed, so the possibility of finding it outside of the California Central Coast area is probably slim. If you do go to the Barrelhouse taproom, be sure to also taste their Mango IPA; it’s delicious (you get thisrecommendation free of charge).
That’s it for now, beer lovers. Stay tuned for more about beer in the days to come.