Rahr’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer Deserves More Credit Than It Gets.

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 Rahr & Sons Brewing Company‘s Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer.

Fast Facts on Rahr’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer.
Style: Wood-Aged Beer (English Dark).
ABV: 9 percent.
International Bitterness Units (IBUs): 44.
Color: Inky black.
Availability: Seasonal.

Overview.
In this town — and in this current brewing climate — when folks think of a bourbon barrel-aged beer, they typically think of Lakewood’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Temptress. And deservedly so: That’s a fantastic beer.

But Fort Worth’s Rahr brewing has been releasing its own barrel_aged winter brew since before Lakewood Brewing Company even existed.

Locally, Rahr is a brewery that’s perhaps a bit underappreciated. The brewery opened in Fort Worth in 2004 — well before the recent explosion of craft beer in North Texas — and now has a pretty long history of quality brewing.

In some ways, Rahr is a victim of its own success. The company’s beers are so prevalent in the local market that they almost blend into the background along with larger, commercially focused entities like Shiner, Real Ale or any of of the BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors) set’s “crafty” offerings. All the while, the newer locals get all the love.

Fair? Probably not, which is why we’ll be taking a closer look this year at some of the offerings from our most senior North Texas craft brewery, starting with its Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer.

Background on Wood-Aged Beers.
Rahr bills its base beer here as an English Dark, which by itself doesn’t have a great style definition. In appearance and taste, it’s similar to a mild Porter or Stout — but it’s still different enough to not be a great match for either of those styles.

The main style category for this kind of beer is a catch-all for Wood-Aged Beers. Much like other catch-all categories like Specialty Beer or Spice/Herb/Vegetable beer, the gist is that the brewer starts with a base beer of any style that he or she wants, and then adds specialty ingredients — in this case wood.

With these types of beers, the specialty ingredient should be uniquely present, both in the aroma and the flavor. Beyond those basic guidelines, the brewer has quite a bit of latitude for creativity. Generally, you can expect that the wood-aging will impart flavors and aromas of vanilla, chocolate, oak, toffee, caramel, toast and coffee, among others.

Appearance.
Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer pours dark inky black — just about as dark as can be — with a thick, mousy, slightly off-white head, which fades into the glass and leaves a very thin top layer above the beer.

Aroma.
There are very subdued roasted grains with heavy creamy chocolate scents and a hint of coffee in the background. It’s a really pleasant aroma that’s more mellow than some other barrel-aged beers. Meanwhile, there are no detectable alcohol notes — either from the beer’s ABV or any lingering bourbon from the barrels.

Flavor.
On your tongue, there are even more coffee flavors — a they come at you a bit stronger than you might expect, given the aroma. Roasted malts are detectable, and there’s a bit of citrus hop flavor as well. Oak is very prevalent, which, when combined with the moderate level of hops (for comparison, many IPAs tend to fall in the 60-100 IBU range), brings a nice developed bitterness to the beer. The bitterness dries your mouth out a bit, but it really helps prevent the beer from feeling too thick or sweet.

Mouthfeel.
The carbonation actually feels slightly low, but it helps make the beer taste exceptionally smooth, which I like in this style. In the end, there’s a medium to slightly thick mouthfeel.

Overall Impression.
It’s hard to find a lot of fault with Rahr’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer. Clearly, it’s a recipe that’s been dialed in over the years, which shows in the incredible balance. At nine percent ABV, it’s a big beer with a very complex flavor profile. When introducing the barrel-aging process into the brewing one, there’s ample opportunity for off-flavors to develop or for one or two flavor components to begin dominating others. But that’s not the case here. The balance is impressive for the style, which, along with a silky smooth mouthfeel, contributes toward making this beer a sessionable one. While Rahr’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer doesn’t get the attention of Lakewood’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Temptress, it may be just as good. And, really, it should be a welcome addition to your winter beer lineup.

Score.
On a scale of 1-10, I give the Rahr Bourbon Barrel Aged Winter Warmer an 8.5.

Previous On Tap Reviews:
Peticolas’ Royal Scandal: 10.
Community’s Mosaic IPA: 10.
Lakewood’s Temptress: 9.5.
Lakewood’s Goatman: 9.5.
Revolver’s Blood & Honey: 9.
Martin House’s Imperial Texas: 9.
Community’s Trinity Tripel: 9.
Lakewood’s Punkel: 8.
Deep Ellum’s GOURDzilla: 8.
Peticolas’ Wintervention: 8.
Community’s Texas Pils: 7.5.
Lakewood’s Zomer Pils: 7.5.
Deep Ellum IPA: 7.
Armadillo Ale Work’s Quakertown Stout: 7.
Peticolas’ The Duke: 6.5.
Deep Ellum’s Double Brown Stout : 6.5.
Cedar Creek’s Elliott’s Phoned Home Pale Ale: 6
Grapevine Craft Brewery’s Lakefire: 6
Lakewood’s La Dame Du Lac: 5.5.
Franconia Wheat: 3.

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