Three Barrel-Aged Beers for Winter
Milwaukee Brewing Company -- Louie’s Cherry Bounce
In brewing Cherry Bounce, Milwaukee Brewing Company adopts two quintessential Wisconsin traditions: Brandy and bounce cherries. Bounce cherries, for the uninitiated, are cherries aged for several months in liquor.
Starting with Louie’s Demise — Milwaukee Brewing’s flagship amber ale — as a base beer, Cherry Bounce is then aged in brandy barrels with tart Wisconsin cherries.
Cherry Bounce opens with the tart, fruity scent of cherries kissing your nose. Then, creamy notes of vanilla weave through waves of caramel, honey, dark malt and toffee. Supremely well hidden, the alcohol serves to cut the beer’s body and spread its flavor across the palate. Controlled and quite soft, the brandy-barrel presence in Cherry Bounce layers on the piquant, cherry-skin finish and combines with the alcohol to lend a slightly drying sensation to this otherwise chewy beer.
Complex enough to be treated like wine, Cherry Bounce pairs well with rich holiday dishes.
10.2% ABV, 30 IBU, Milwaukee Brewing Company’s Cherry Bounce is a special release that will be only be available at Milwaukee Brewing’s 2nd Street Brewery sometime in mid December.
Lakefront Brewing Company -- Imperial Pumpkin Lager
The rare pumpkin beer that’s somehow seasonal, balanced, and complex without overplaying the pumpkin and the spices, Lakefront’s Imperial Pumpkin Lager is a perennial contender on lists of best pumpkin beers.
Mahogany in color and crystal clear with a fine lacing of foam, Imperial Pumpkin smells of roasted nuts with brandy, beneath which is something akin to walking in the door of a spice house or your grandmother’s kitchen. Cinnamon, nutmeg and perhaps even vanilla bean are sprinkled into big malt notes.
At 13.4% ABV, Imperial Pumpkin is quite warming. It’s best sipped like brandy: slowly, so that you can contemplate flavors of banana bread, butterscotch and freshly-baked cake. Hazelnut balances against huge, chewy malt flavors. Then a dark, fruitiness lingers on your palate as you exhale after each sip — as does the sensation of melted caramel malts. As for the pumpkin, there is perhaps a hint of caramelized acorn squash about the beer, but this is masterfully interwoven into the beer’s flavor profile.
Available now, Lakefront’s Brewery’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale is a wonderful partner for Thanksgiving dinner, but is a near-perfect fireside sipper. It also ages quite gracefully.
New Glarus -- R&D Vintage 2016 Geuze
New Glarus has been wood-aging beers since 1994, and their coolship (a wide, open tank kept in their fruit caves, which they use to spontaneously ferment beers like this one) was one the first in the country.
This geuze was made by blending spontaneously-fermented beers called lambics which were aged in wooden tanked called foeders. A complex refreshment from the heavier beer styles that tend to dominate store shelves and coolers starting in early autumn, New Glarus’ 2016 Geuze pours the color and scent of a sunny October hayfield. Smelling of freshly dried hay, the barest hint of funk and slightly overripe lemon rind — with an underlying maltiness — the first sips of this geuze maintain this balance of sweet, floral and sour elements. Aged hops lend a note of chamomile— but no bitterness — playing perfectly into a light, woody character that transitions into malt. It’s cut by flavors of Granny Smith apple skin and sour funk that lingers sharply on your tongue.
At first blush, New Glarus’ geuze might strike many as atypical for the season. But it’s low ABV and rich amalgam of delicate flavors make it both the perfect palate cleanser and a wonderful session beer. Its bright acidity works well with appetizers and cuts through heavy holiday fare.
One of the true gems of Wisconsin craft beers, New Glarus’ 2016 Geuze is worth seeking out and savoring with anyone whose conversation is as interesting as this beer, or maybe even your uncle.