I know, I know - I kinda fell off the wagon here for a bit...
Life has been pretty hectic, but in honesty I have just been lazy! During the absence I have sampled plenty of great brews and now it is time to catch you guys up.
I have sampled the base brew of this collection a couple times in the past, and was pretty impressed with the result. But never before have I been able to taste three different versions of the same beer. This was a really cool, side-by-side-by-side sampling of a brew - and all three were completely indistinguishable from the others.
Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine 2011 is a 10% ABV, mahogany colored beer that pours to a one-finger beige head of dense, small bubbles. It actually turned out much darker than I was expecting based on the other beers of the style I have sampled in the past.
The brew smells vaguely floral and citrusy with heavy alcohol and some spice. The first sip is as dark as the color...with hints of brown sugar and dates or figs. With all of that dark fruit the beer tastes a lot more like a Belgian Dubbel to me than a Barleywine - but either way I enjoyed it!
Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine 2011 Aged in Cabernet Barrels is also 10% ABV (again, it is the SAME BEER), that pours a dark, cloudy brown color with a one-finger head of off-white foam. I take a whiff of this beer and I am immediately concerned...it smells heavy and boozy of a dark red wine - something I have never been particularly fond of in the past.
I take the first sip and I can definitely taste the wine, but I can't believe it - I actually really like this beer! The flavors picked up from the wine barrels add a truly unique element that I haven't had before, even after nearly 1,100 different brews. The fruity base is still there, but this version is richer with strong warming characteristics and an incredibly dry finish.
There is also a really cool cartoon drawing on the label of the two aged versions of the beer of a pirate searching "Below Decks" for a particular bottle with barrels all around marked "gunpowder" and "ale"...
Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine 2011 Aged in Bourbon Barrels is the final variety of this 10% ABV monster, and at this point my head is starting to swim from the three 22 oz. bombers! This one pours a reddish, cherry wood color with a one-finger off-white head of foam.
I can tell just from the aroma that this one will be my favorite of the three...it smells of sweet bourbon, chocolate and raisins. From the first sip you get the stronger palate of the liquor, and it is both warm and delicious! The fruit flavor swells and reveals itself as dates, not raisins as I had previously thought from the wafting nose. The sweetness of chocolates, caramel and vanilla bean all come together in a beautiful combination for a liquid dessert.
All three brews turned out to be lovely in their own right, but I would rank them in reverse order for what they all brought to the table: 1). Bourbon Aged, 2). Cabernet Aged, 3). Standard Barleywine