With Fill In The Blancs, BrainDead’s Proved Its Barrel Program Is Next Level.
Welcome to On Tap! Each week in this recurring feature, we’ll take an in-depth look at one of the many beers now available in the suddenly crowded North Texas brew scene. The goal here is to look at these area beers without our local goggles on and to wonder aloud, “Is this beer good or do I just like it because it’s local?” Should be a fun experiment, no? Cheers to that!
This week, we sipped on BrainDead Brewing‘s Fill In the Blancs.
Fast Facts on BrainDead Fill In the Blancs.
Style: American Barleywine.
ABV: 9.2 percent.
International Bitterness Units (IBUs): 75.
Color: Light brown.
BrainDead Brewing is just beginning to make some more wacky, limited beers as of late 2015. And this means barrels, people! Beautiful oak bourbon and wine barrels. Unfortunately, the first I had heard of BrainDead aging any of its beers in barrels was when one of the brewers posted a photo of a barrel with a missing bung. At the time, BrainDead suspected that some deviant punk-ass low life popped the bung off of one of its barrels containing Sexport, one of its barrel-aged beers. Just in case you’re new to visiting places where brewers brew and age beer, rule numero uno is don’t touch unless you have permission. But let’s get back on a positive note: BrainDead recently leased the adjoining space next door to help make some space for its expanding brewing operation. And doer of things at BrainDead Brewing Sam Wynne offered to show me the space too! The main portion is in the hey, we’re working on things here and it’s a shit-show phase, which is totally normal because it’s a new space. But the real jewel is the giant walk-in cooler. And look what we have here: more barrels either in use or quietly waiting their turn to transform already-exciting beer in to even better beer.
Here’s another couple of interesting tidbits. First, Wynne told me that BrainDead is really a retail establishment at heart. Huh? Yeah, you can get a growler fill or buy a Real Ale Hans Pilz (unopened) and walk right outta there. So this review on Fill In the Blancs is from one of two limited draft kegs available at BrainDead. The rest of this batch of beer will be bottled and for sale here at the brewery. So you can come here and buy a bottle of it to drink here, or you can buy an unopened bottle and take it to go. Sheesh, I need to brush up on my booze licensing laws.
Second interesting tidbit: Word on the street from an unnamed and unofficial source is that this recipe seems eerily familiar to Deep Ellum’s Wealth and Taste — or at least what it was at the beginning. That recipe has since changed a bit but, man, imagine drinking some of those first batches from DEBC if they were this good.
Background on Barleywine.
For the record, and before I dig in here, let me state that BrainDead calls this beer an “imperial golden ale aged in sauvignon blanc wine barrels.” Their words. I don’t know what that is, and this beer smells like a barleywine straight away, so I’m going with barleywine. And it’s big on the hops to boot, so I’m further forking off what I think this beer is — an American barleywine. This style is known for its richness from the large grain bill, elevated original gravity, and can even have a somewhat elevated final gravity. This style of beer is what I refer to as a helmet beer. I think I stole that term from Josh Yingling and Matt Tobin over at Goodfriend. So… thanks guys! Back to the barleywine style — this style is assertively hopped in order to balance out that huge grain bill. This style is full-bodied and chewy, sometimes velvety on the mouth. Normal alcohol ranges for a barleywine range from 8 to 12 percent.
This beer looks like it has been hanging out in a barrel for a while. And it doesn’t make total sense for the brewer to filter a beer of this caliber; it would most likely strip out some of the compounds that make this beer a pleasure to drink in the first place. It’s a cloudy beer. It is what it is. There’s an even, pillowy layer of off-white foam on the pour. As expected, BrainDead serves this beer in a smaller pour. It’s a big beer, after all. This beer looks nice, sure, but this is not the sense I want to focus on in this review.
As I mentioned in the overview, this beer has some serious richness going on. It has a large sense of sweetness right off the bat, followed by some fruity situation. I suspect that I’m getting a ton of fruit notes from the wine barrel aging time with this beer. Behind the fruit, there is a healthy dose of caramel. Yes, there is a certain level of alcohol on the nose, but it’s balanced with the bitter and rich aromas here. From a hops standpoint, the star of the show is Nelson Sauvin. This is a varietal that comes to us from New Zealand, and it’s known for its fruity and white wine character. So it’s no surprise that BrainDead went with Nelson Sauvin to crank up some of that white wine aroma to partner up with the sauvignon blanc barrel.
Fill In the Blancs really shines in the flavor department. At first sip, there’s a tingle of shy tartness from the carbonation that then fades and releases into a boozy bouquet. Then there’s caramel, but not crazy cloying sweetness like you might find from some other barleywines or helmet beers like this. Behind the caramel there’s the ghost of the sauvignon blanc barrel, inviting and haunting with a smooth oaky flavor. This barrel flavor is probably also the factor that adds in some of that initial tartness on the front of the sip. The barrel seems to propel this beer out from plain ol’ barleywine and in to something way more complex. The aftertaste on this beer seems to stick around forever. It’s bitter, white wine-ish, fragrantly estery and warming all at the same time.
This beer does not fuck around, nor does it hide the fact that it is not your daily drinker. This is a big beer, and it shows right from the start. I can feel a certain level of booziness on each sip, and I like it. The alcohol doesn’t overpower the mouthfeel, as the bittering from the Nelson Sauvin and rich malt backbone seem to balance out the mouthfeel.
This is an excellent beer. I have been very pleased with the beers produced by BrainDead so far. But this barrel program at BrainDead is next-level, and this brewery is teasing out some complexity and flavors from beers like Fill In the Blancs that put it toe-to-toe with the best breweries in DFW. Hey, BrainDead, keep your brewers who work on beers like this one. These guys are making some damn good beer.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give BrainDead Brewing Fill In the Blancs a 9.5.
What’s happening in the area brew scene?
• Saturday, July 30. Fourth Anniversary Getdown at Lakewood Brewing.
• Saturday, August 6. Local Brews, Local Grooves at House of Blues.
• Saturday, August 6. Community Craft Beer Barge at Eagle Point Marina.
• Sunday, September 4. Labor of Love Homebrew Competition at Deep Ellum Brewing Co.
• Saturday, September 10. Brewfest at Dallas Farmers Market.
• Saturday, October 1. Texas Beer Camp at Long Road Farm.
• Saturday, November 12. Untapped: Dallas at Fair Park.
Previous On Tap Reviews:
• Revolver’s Sangre y Miel: 10.
• Peticolas’ Royal Scandal: 10.
• Community’s Mosaic IPA: 10.
• Peticolas’ Velvet Hammer: 10.
• Community’s Barrel-Aged Legion: 10.
• Community’s Legion: 10.
• Oak Highlands’ Freaky Deaky: 9.5.
• Deep Ellum’s Barrel Aged Four Swords: 9.5.
• Lakewood’s Saint Dymphna: 9.5.
• Peticolas’ Lost Epic: 9.5.
• Community’s Ascension Porter: 9.5.
• Lakewood’s Temptress: 9.5.
• Lakewood’s Goatman: 9.5.
• Community’s Public Ale: 9.5.
• Peticolas’ Thrilla in Brazilla: 9.5.
• On Rotation’s Jalapeno Saison: 9.
• Woodcreek’s Bourbon Barrel Bock: 9.
• Lakewood’s Wild Manimal: 9.
• Revolver’s Blood & Honey: 9.
• Martin House’s Imperial Texan: 9.
• Community’s Trinity Tripel: 9.
• Peticolas’ Irish Goodbye: 9.
• Four Corners’ Block Party Porter: 9.
• Cedar Creek’s Belgian Dubbel: 9.
• Peticolas’ Ghost Of Alfred Brown: 8.5.
• Deep Ellum’s Easy Peasy IPA: 8.5.
• Deep Ellum’s Oak Cliff Coffee Ale: 8.5.
• Lakewood’s Rock Ryder: 8.5.
• Rahr’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer: 8.5.
• Lakewood’s Raspberry Temptress: 8.5.
• Texas Ale Project’s Payne Pils: 8.
• Noble Rey’s Bridesmaid’s Tears: 8.
• Collective Brewing’s Urban Funk House: 8.
• Lakewood’s On Call: 8.
• Oak Highlands’ Golden Mustache: 8.
• 903 Brewers’ Crackin’ Up: 8.
• Deep Ellum’s Play Date: 8.
• Rahr & Sons Brewing Company’s 11th Anniversary Russian Imperial Stout: 8.
• Bitter Sisters’ Belgian Tripel: 8.
• Noble Rey’s SteamPunk: 8.
• 903 Brewers’ Citra On Top: 8.
• Bitter Sisters’ Hissy Fit: 8.
• BrainDead’s Gritz: 8.
• Community’s Barrel-Aged Inspiration : 8.
• Cedar Creek’s Fisticuffs: 8.
• Lakewood’s Punkel: 8.
• Four Corners’ El Chingon IPA: 8.
• Martin House’s Day Break: 8.
• Deep Ellum’s GOURDzilla: 8.
• Peticolas’ The Duke (Aged 12 Months): 8.
• Deep Ellum’s Pale Ale: 8.
• Revolver’s Bock: 8.
• 903 Brewers’ Sasquatch: 8.
• Peticolas’ Wintervention: 8.
• Armadillo Ale Works’ Brunch Money: 8.
• Martin House’s Salsa Verde: 8.
• Cedar Creek’s Spinning Mule Robust Porter: 8.
• Lakewood’s Holiday Bonus: 8.
• Lakewood’s Hop Trapp: 8.
• Martin House’s Stars Above: 7.5.
• Grapevine’s Prickly Pear Wheat Ale: 7.5.
• Bitter Sisters’ Knock Out: 7.5.
• Four Corners’ Notorious O.A.T.: 7.5.
• Noble Rey Golden Rey With Raspberries and Ginger: 7.5.
• On Rotation Saved By The Belma: 7.5.
• True Vine’s Unicorn’s Revenge: 7.5.
• Deep Ellum’s Hop Seeker: 7.5.
• Four Corners’ El Super Bee: 7.5.
• Lakewood’s Hopochondria: 7.5.
• Three Nations GPA: 7.5.
• Martin House’s Rubberneck Red: 7.5.
• Lakewood’s Antigoon’s Revenge: 7.5.
• Community’s Texas Pils: 7.5.
• Lakewood’s Zomer Pils: 7.5.
• Cedar Creek’s Dankosaurus: 7.5.
• Backcountry’s Double IPA: 7.
• Rahr’s Visionary: 7.
• Shannon Brewing’s Irish Cream Ale: 7.
• Oak Highlands’ Guava Good: 7.
• TUPPS Brewery’ Northbound 75: 7.
• Rahr & Sons’ Iron Joe: 7.
• BrainDead’s I Like Harvey IPA: 7.
• Martin House’s Turtle Power: 7.
• Collective’s Petite Golden Sour: 7.
• Shannon’s Chocolate Stout: 7.
• BrainDead’s Red Ale: 7.
• Community’s Razzy Raspberry Witbier: 7.
• Martin House’s Gateway Blonde Ale: 7.
• Bearded Eel’s Purple Unicorn: 7.
• Noble Rey’s Off The Leash: 7.
• Shannon Brewing Company’s Irish Red: 7.
• Texas Ale Project’s Somethin’ Shady: 7.
• Deep Ellum IPA: 7.
• Cedar Creek’s The Lawn Ranger: 7.
• Martin House Brewing Company’s Cellarman’s Reserve IPA (Amarillo).: 7.
• Lakewood’s Till & Toil: 7.
• 903 Brewers’ The Chosen One: 7.
• 903 Brewers’ Sugar On Top: 7.
• Martin House’s Gateway XPA: 7.
• Armadillo Ale Work’s Quakertown Stout: 7.
• Revolver’s High Brass: 7.
• Community’s Pale Ale: 7.
• Oak Highlands’ Chump Change: 7.
• Martin House’s River House: 7.
• Grapevine Craft Brewery’s Sir William’s Brown Ale: 7.
• Community’s Funnel Cake Ale: 7.
• Audacity’s Boss Raptor IPA: 7.
• Martin House’s The Juice: 6.5.
• Collective Brewing Project’s Mom Azacca: 6.5.
• Four Corners’ La Lechuza: 6.5.
• Revolver’s Ironhead IPA: 6.5.
• 903 Brewers’ Trot Line: 6.5.
• Peticolas’ Operation Collaboration: 6.5.
• Grapevine Craft Brewery’s Nightwatch: 6.5.
• Peticolas’ The Duke: 6.5.
• Deep Ellum’s Double Brown Stout : 6.5.
• Nine Bands’ Cactus Cat: 6.
• Martin House’s Kafkaesque: 6.
• TUPPS’ Cotton Mill Gold: 6.
• Rabbit Hole’s Tweedleyum: 6.
• Rabbit Hole’s Off With Your Red: 6.
• Cedar Creek’s Elliott’s Phoned Home Pale Ale: 6
• Grapevine Craft Brewery’s Lakefire: 6
• Armadillo Ale Works’ WunderMelon: 6
• Deep Ellum Pale Ale: 6
• Martin House’s Hell Below: 5.5.
• Lakewood’s La Dame Du Lac: 5.5.
• Martin House’s Mind On My Money: 5.
• 903 Brewers’ The Land Of Milk And Honey: 5.
• Deep Ellum’s Numb Comfort: 5.
• Four Bullets’ Black Jack Brown: 4.5.
• Four Corners Heart O’ Texas: 4.
• Audacity’s Sunset Boulevard: 4.
• Shannon Brewing Company’s IPA: 4.
• Grapevine’s Monarch: 4.
• Twin Peaks’ Dirty Blonde: 3.
• Franconia Wheat: 3.
• Miller Lite: 1.