13 March 2017

Put up your dukes

Late last year, Eight Degrees announced that their winter trilogy would be a bit different this time out. The three new beers would all be released in large-format bottles, each a different style but all aged in Burgundy wine barrels. "The Three Dukes of Burgundy" they've called them, and the first two arrived in late November. Duke the third, a barley wine, was due in January but has now been pushed to even later in 2017 so I've decided not to wait for him and open the first two.

First up is The Fearless, a 6.4% ABV pale "farmhouse ale". The barrels used for this were Chardonnay ones and there's definitely a hint of dry white grape in here. Not for the first time I'm finding the wine character in a Chardonnay-aged beer to be more like Sauvignon Blanc than Chardonnay. There's a woody edge too, though more dry and splintery than the usual oaky vanilla. At its heart, however, it is a straight-up saison: lightly textured, gently spicy and with a generous helping of succulent soft fruit -- peaches and lychee in particular, to my mind. There's a bit of a rasp to its dry finish making me wish it were a little softer, but I'm thankful that as a saison on the stronger side of the style spec it's not overly estery or in any way hot. That I got through the whole bottle by myself in one sitting is a testament to its cleanness and drinkability and nothing else.

The middle child is The Bold, an imperial stout aged in Pinot Noir barrels and chalking up 9.9% on the ABV scale. It's thick: glugging out of a bottle filled almost to the brim, forming a café crème coloured head which builds dramatically before fading to a much more reasonable level. With all that drama, and the name, I was expecting a big hit from the first taste but this duke is actually quite restrained. The aroma is coffee, though of the fruitier sort, and the flavour carries that as well: glimpses of cherry and redcurrant amongst the sharper spikes of burnt grain. It's not terribly complex for all of that, the dense creamy texture buoying the flavour but what you get on the front is the complete picture, with no added side flavours unfolding in the wings. There's substance enough to remind me somewhat of top-level Dutch and Danish imperial stouts, but it just doesn't operate on that level. I suspect that the wine barrels weren't ballsy enough to make an impact on the big beer which went into them: there's a reason that whiskey casks are de rigueur for this sort of project. The end result is an understated barrel-aged imperial stout, delivering the chocolate and coffee you would expect with little by way of vinous decoration.

Both beers were perhaps less impactful than I'd been expecting. They lacked the bells and whistles that breweries in this game tend to attach. But both are solid examples of their style: workmanlike quality and very enjoyable to drink. That they set off my novelty sensors without delivering actual novelties is probably the beer world's fault, not theirs.

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