The vast majority of the stuff I have had from ATBC has been styles I don’t care so much for, which Adroit then takes and spins and I end up writing something like “I don’t usually like (insert beer style here), but…” The only styles they’ve sent me so far that I really would say are some of my favorites are saison (T/P/D) and IPA (G/I/A/A, both reviewed here). Everything else has been styles that I wouldn’t usually select for myself at the beer store, and somehow they take them and make them into something I (usually) really like, and for that I have been incredibly impressed with ATBC overall. When I opened my most recent shipment from them and saw a bottles of their barleywine (the regular, and the – oh my god – bourbon barrel aged version) I was incredibly excited. If they can take stuff I don’t like and make it into stuff I do like, I couldn’t imagine how mind blowingly awesome a barleywine – a favorite, and a vastly underrepresented, style of mine – from Adroit would be. Here we go.
Tenebris (Ghost 014)
About the Beer (from the label):
During Medieval times, “The Shadow of the Sun” was how European Alchemists defined the Crow. It was their symbol for the blackness of despair and chaos. We see the Crow as a Life Force so powerful it can actually live off Death itself. After all, it’s not Death if you refuse it…
Style: English Barleywine
Bottle 19 of 125; I love seeing that numbering on the label strap that ATBC includes on all of their bottles. It’s cool for two reasons: 1.) I know how rare the beer that I’m about to drink truly is, and 2.) as a beer nerd / Virgo / possibly slightly OCD person, it’s even cooler to me to know sequentially where mine falls in the grand scheme of things. The second thing that popped out right after seeing that number was the art on this bottle, which I think is one of the best bits of graphic design ATBC has nailed down so far. What you’ve got is a crow, crucified on an upside-down cross (ooo, dark and scary!) with a plate reading Mors Semper Vincit, Latin for “Death is always victorious.” These guys are seriously metal. That’s just all there is to it. Love this label.
Pouring the TENEBRIS, I get a dark rusted orange/brown that surfaced with a light tan cap that ebbs slowly and leaves behind a little lace. TENEBRIS starts with a pretty emphatic head of large, rounded bubbles, but these give way rather quickly and leave behind just a reminder of their former selves. Upon smelling the TENEBRIS, I’m immediately worried. There’s something strange in the bouquet here, and I’ve smelled this noxious offender before, in Dogfish Head’s IMMORT ALE. I call it “Band Aid,” for lack of a better descriptor (and that’s not to say that I am the creator of that term or the copyright holder or any such nonsense), and I don’t like it. Along with that antagonizing odor, I also get super-sweetness, almost a bit of bubble gum and banana from the nose. For a brew rated at 85 IBU, I am surprised that I don’t get much hops, though that easily could be where the bubblegum and fruit scents are coming from; I don’t have a sense of bitterness from the aroma emanating from TENEBRIS.
Sampling the elixir, I’m happy to find that the TENEBRIS does not have as pungent a Band Aid flavor as the IMMORT ALE did, while the flavor is there it is not as off-putting as I found it in that Dogfish brew. There is a bright side to this flavor though: trying that same batch of IMMORT ALE just 9 months later I found that the assaulting essence had faded greatly, and I expect it to do the same in TENEBRIS. For those of you not familiar with barleywine: it’s not really meant to be consumed fresh. Some beers are great, awesome, never better the moment they are packaged; anything hop forward (like an IPA, a pale ale, etc.) should be consumed as fresh as humanly possible. This is part of why I love my local breweries so much. Other styles – like quadrupels, old ales, imperial stouts, etc. – can easily benefit from some aging time, and some (like barleywines) pretty much require it. I wish I had a TENEBRIS to lay down in my cellar, because I think in two to three years, this would be a blow-yer-damned-socks-off brew. Right now, it’s good but it’s green. Along with that offending flavor that unfortunately was the most prominent (but fortunately WILL likely be gone with some aging that this beer deserves), I got some toffee, some bubblegum, a little meatiness, and some hops blast on the way out (while the IBUs didn’t show up in the nose they did on the palate).
The TENEBRIS sat thick in my mouth, syrupy, boozy, and heavy. This is certainly not a beer I’d be chugging ever, and fresh it is not the most easily drinkable barleywine. Then again, most aren’t. With some time (again, I’m guessing two or three years would be about perfect) I think this would be an amazingly beautifully elixir, and would be a great beer to sip. It would make me want to have a smoking jacket and a pipe made out of whalebone, or something similarly decadent (but maybe not so morally corrupt).
Overall 6 / 10
Tenebris – Bourbon Barrel (Ghost 015)
About the Beer (from the label):
Same as Tenebris
Style: Bourbon Barrel aged English Barleywine
Upon taking my first glance at the bourbon barrel aged version of ATBC’s barleywine, the first thing that stood out was again the label strap. 8 of 50. 50? That’s right. There are 50 bottles of this beer in existence right now. I love this job. The label on BOURBON BARREL TENEBRIS is the same as the original, but inverted, and I think it works better as the heavier black label rather than the more white that the original TENEBRIS presents. BBT is the same beer, just aged in bourbon barrels. As I said in my review of Karbach’s F.U.N. 005 (here), just about anything is better in bourbon barrels. Barleywine is no exception. I really do not understand why this is the first bourbon barrel aged barleywine I’ve had (that I can think of). It makes perfect sense. Barleywine is already a pretty boozy genre of beer to begin with, so the addition of the bourbon flavor only accentuates and really masks the astringent alcohol bite that the 11% ABV the BBT carries with it, and damn that’s a good thing.
Pouring the BBT into my snifter, I get a more roasted puce than any other color. Many barleywines border on a near-purple in their hue, and while the BBT is more on the brown end of the puce spectrum it does get a bit violet in its coloring. This is topped off with an off-white cap that is much more reserved than the non-bourbon version. The head recedes relatively rapidly to a halo that rides the outside of the glass and leaves behind almost no lacing to speak of. The aroma of the BBT is all bourbon and malt; up front you’ve got the spirit and the sweetness. This is followed by a touch of alcohol astringency, and then some burnt sugar. The Band Aid smell from the regular TENEBRIS makes almost no notice in the aroma of the BBT; if I was not looking for it after having had the original, I’m not really sure if I would have even noticed its presence, as faint as it was.
Sipping on the BBT I get, as I’d hoped, the bourbon front and center. This is backed up by a toffee or caramel second note that is a really nice addition to the flavor, and one I’d hoped to get from a barleywine. The Band Aid piquancy is much more demure in the BBT versus the TENEBRIS, and for that I am thankful. This also reaffirms my feelings that this flavor is a temporary resident, and with some age I fully expect it to disappear from both the TENEBRIS and the BBT. The hops bite on the BBT is noticeable, but again a bit milder than on the normal iteration of this brew. There is a good sweetness that backs up that bitterness, and the bitterness that the BBT carries with it is more mild than a lot of barlewines I’ve had, especially for one rated at 85 IBU.
The body of the BBT us a bit more velvety and creamy than it’s non-spirited counterpart, and I don’t know if that is truly because of the barrel aging, or if it is wholly a placebo effect that comes from the offending flavor compounds being a bit more hushed in this version of the beer. Either way, it seems richer, more decadent on the tongue than the original TENEBRIS, and I really like that in a barleywine. While I’d love to have either version of this beer to age, I think the BBT is going to be good-god-damned amazing in a few years. How I wish I had another of those bottles in my cellar, but as there is a whopping 50 of them in existence, I guess that’s a lot to ask. Just like any beer that comes in with double-digit ABV ratings, the BBT is not a beer to guzzle, it is a beer to appreciate and absorb. It is much easier on the palate and the mind than the original TENEBRIS, but that all comes back to the fact that these were both enjoyed very green, and I think that if I had held onto them for a year and written these reviews, either one would be as drinkable as the other. I don’t think ATBC would be overly happy with me about taking a year to review their beers! Overall, IU am glad that I got to try a couple of beers in a style I love, and while fresh they were not the greatest thing I’ve ever had, not many barleywines are. I truly would love to have some of these to cellar and see how they stack up in one, two, or five years, because I think that they can only go up from here.
Overall 7.5 / 10