On Saturday, Lift Bridge Brewing Company will celebrate the release of The Commander, an English-style barleywine aged in bourbon barrels from the Heaven Hill Distillery. It’s the brewery’s first barleywine, and also the first of what will hopefully be a long string of big-bottle, limited-batch releases.
The beer takes its name from the Commander grain elevator that towers over the city at the edge of the river just south of the lift bridge. The beer is as commanding at the building. At 12.5% ABV, it’s a bruiser of a beer. It’s as big in flavor as it is high in alcohol. Here’s my notes:
Aroma: Poured into a small snifter, the aromas rise boldly from the glass. Bourbon and wood. Toasted oak and vanilla. Toffee. Lightly sweet with hints of golden raisins and alcohol.
Appearance: Clear. Jewel-like, dark-amber color with ruby highlights. The moderate off-white head dissipated fairly quickly into a fine film on the surface.
Flavor: Toffee, Toffee, Toffee! Brown sugar, vanilla, and bourbon work with the toffee to remind me of the Brach’s Chews I used to enjoy at my grandparents’ house, except that these are laced with alcohol. Wisps of orange citrus, oaky tannins, and still those golden raisins. Cardamom gives a unique fruitiness. Bitterness is moderate, just enough to keep it from being too sweet. It’s helped along by the abundant and boozy alcohol. As it warms it takes on tones of gooey caramel.
Mouthfeel: It makes my lips numb after just a couple of sips. Medium-full body, but well attenuated. Assertively warming.
Overall Impression: There is a lot going on in this beer. Toffee, cardamom fruitiness, bourbon, wood, and vanilla. It goes on and on and gets deeper as it warms. It’s delicious, but maybe a bit young. The flavors strike me as not quite melding. The main detractor is the prominent alcohol. It is quite boozy. My whole mouth was numb by the end of the first glass and the alcohol flavor was getting in the way. I think age will treat this one very, very well. The bottle says to drink it before 2020. That seems about right. Drink one now. Bury another one in the cellar and forget about it. It will be a great discovery years down the road.
The release party is happening at the Lift Bridge brewery in Stillwater on Saturday, November 19th from 3-8 pm. You’ll get to sample the beer, buy a bottle (limit 6), and participate in some fun and games while you’re at it. The website says this beer is so limited that it may not be made available in stores. If you want a bottle, best get your butt to the party. You can read more details about the event on the website.