Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Beer Month: Block 15 Pappy's Dark Vertical

In 1935, traveling bourbon distributor Julian P. "Pappy" Van Winkle, Sr. opened a newly completed Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville.

Likely a crazy old man, he made some damn fine bourbon until his death at age 91 and through a series of deaths and sales the pre-probition label of Old Rip Van Winkle was resurrected in 1972 and they've been aging fine bourbon under the Pappy Van Winkle name since then.

Fast forward to 2009 and a crazy Oregon brewer named Nick Arzner procured some old Pappy's barrels and said, "what the hell, let's make some beer!"

The result of these shenanigans, Block 15 Brewing Company's Pappy's Dark, is a stellar example of the fantastic barrel-aging program going on at the Corvallis brewery. It also makes for some damn fine winter beer.

I'd been hanging on to the 2010 and 2011 vintages of Pappy's Dark for just the right moment to do a vertical review, like I had done a few months earlier with Figgy Pudding. The holidays provided the perfect opportunity for two nerdy fools, Rick and myself, to taste both beers.

As described by the brewers,
European malts blend harmoniously with the aromas and flavors of vanilla, coconut, oak, caramel, and imagination contributed by freshly emptied Kentucky Bourbon barrels this ale was matured in. This yearly bottle offering is result of blending the finest barrels hand picked by our brewers.
Brewery: Block 15 Brewing Company
Style: Specialty Strong Ale Rating: 90 Rating: 97 overall
Serving: 750ml Bottle, Corked and Caged
ABV: Approximately 10%
Released February 2011 and February 2012

Appearance: Upon pouring into semi-appropriate glassware, the 2010 Pappy's showed a dark copper color, smooth, with no carbonation or head visible. The cork was notably darker than the 2011, but beyond that the only main difference in look was more head on the 2011.

Smell: The 2010 Pappy's immediately had a pleasant bourbon nose, with some caramelized sugar and a bit of anise (Rick learned a new word!) The 2011 was distinctly different on the nose, with more of a fruity or peachy bourbon smell. Both were inviting, although we already knew how delicious this beer was so taking a sip needed no prompting.

Taste: 2010 Pappy's brought some sweet brown sugary and molasses flavors. The mouthfeel was thick enough to encourage small sips, instead of guzzling it down like Night Train. We found 2010 to be nicely balanced. The 2011 had a bit of a puckery tang on the palate, and you may think we're crazy, but we still got some stone fruit notes on it. The molasses flavor waited until the end to pop out, versus right at the front on the 2010.

While similar in composition, Nick tinkers with the recipe each year and some of that tinkering is evident in this comparison. A notable difference is that the 2010 was aged in 10 year bourbon barrels, whereas, the 2011 utilized 20 year barrels. 2011 brought more specialty malts, a switch to British yeast, and an increase in bottle carbonation.

Overall, Rick and I found the 2010 to be more balanced and pleasant; this completely makes sense as Block 15 makes beers with the intention of bottle conditioning. The extra year really helped bring the 2010 together. Not to say 2011 isn't delicious, but some things are worth waiting for. Incidentally, the 2010 was Block 15's second bottle release ever.  Pappy's Dark and all of Block 15's specialty brews are an example of barrel aging done right.

The great news - 2012 Pappy's Dark will be released at the pub on February 2, 2013. In addition to the standard 750ml bottles, a very limited number of 3 liter collectors editions will be available. With 123 cases made, it will go quickly at $14.95 per bottle.


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