Friday rolled around and brought with it a cloud of procrastination. Early evening would bring my attending this month’s MASH homebrew club meeting. All I’d need was a cold couple of glasses of some craft brew for afterwards while I composed the Slinks.
But Friday, an unexpected guest showed up at the house. It was Bols. Bols is a friend of my oldest son. They went to grade school together and sustained their friendship over the years. He was in town to have his SUV serviced by my other sons at the Chevy dealership and he received really good deal on the seal repairs done to his front differential. He wanted to buy a gift of gratitude in the form of some craft beer and asked if I’d accompany him to the beer store. Off we went with the grandson in tow.
He wanted some “expert” (pfft!) opinions on different beers and styles and I was glad to offer up my suggestions at the Four Seasons Beer Store. We browsed the shelves and the cooler and I rendered my opinion on styles and tastes of different selections that were available. I pointed out some of the beers that I really liked and Bols told me what he didn’t like. IPAs and wheat beers were out of the question.
He picked up a bomber and a couple of sixers based on my recommendation and, as a gift for clueing him in on Dark Lord Day, he bought the beer that is the subject of tonight’s review. John Henry 3 Lick Spiker Ale from Cold Spring Brewing Co. out of Cold Spring Minnesota.
I had never heard of Cold Spring Brewing until Friday. Leave it to the Four Seasons guys to come up with new, different and unique brews to stock on their shelves. The distinctive red and yellow design on the carton coupled with the 9.1% ABV rating made it a must-try beer. I bought a sixer Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery for after the meeting.
Bols offered his goodbyes and departed for home. I stashed my craft treasure in the beer fridge.
Saturday came and the sons took Mom to dinner for Mother’s Day. I found myself tagging along as if I had a hand in making my wife a mother. Hey. Waitaminnit. I did!
After a huge meal of delicious vittles, I was prepped for some beer reviewing and it was off to the Manly Garage. The temp was just under 65° and I started a small fire in the Sotz to take the edge off. Now for some preliminary research.
My first effort was to visit the Cold Spring website and was greeted with an error message. It appears the Cold Spring website has a Russian domain. I hope someone over there can fix that situation.
From what I could gather, Cold Spring Brewing was Gluek for a while. A number of ownerships over the years bounced the brewery around like a ping pong ball. Then, all of a sudden, this John Henry beer appears in my town. The history of the brewery, the name and the beers are, for now, all up in the air.
I started wondering if this John Henry beer, with its oak chips and bourbon, would stand up to what I was expecting.
I grabbed the first bottle (a twist-off cap – pfft!) and poured. Mosher style.
The beer arrived with quite a dark, almost black color. In the fresh glass, the foam rose up a mere quarter-inch with a pale brown color. No hint of carbonation bubbles could be seen through the blackness. Hmm. The aroma had hints of roasted malts.
The first sip revealed a nice, decent body to the beer. Some caramel tastes immediately arose along with a tad bit of sweetness. The depth of the taste immediately reminded me that I was drinking another quite bold stout.
The bottle blurb stated that this beer was “ALE AGED ON BOURBON OAK CHIPS” and advertised the 9.1% alcohol. I figured a bourbon oaked ale was somewhere along the lines of Stone’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard (7.2%) only with a little more kick to it. That’s what I thought based on the information immediately available. But the first sip nailed the style of this beer as either a porter or stout.
A quick look in the BJCP style book lent more confusion into the equation. What the hell was I drinking? The beer ranked in the Category 12C of a Baltic Porter in the alcohol range and the color was at the dark end. More characteristics described in the category really pointed the finger at the Baltic Porter style.
More drinking. That blurred line between porters and stouts became more apparent in this beer. Although the malt roastiness was there, it pulled back a bit after the first few sips. The sweetness also drew back and the beer smoothed out nicely. This was becoming quite the delight.
A small ball of heat arose in my stomach signaling the effects of the alcohol, but no alcohol taste could be detected in the sips. The taste became nicely smooth and a tad bit of the bourbon flavor came up and stayed around. The swallow had no over-the-top bitterness and hops were tucked in the background. Not as roasty as a Russian Imperial Stout and no dark, sweet fruitiness came up. The overall general dark, robust and smooth taste carried this beer with each sip all the way down the pipe.
I was trying to compare this beer to a Guinness when I realized that this beer I was drinking was similar but not at all like a Guinness (if that’s at all possible.) The taste of this beer was more sophisticated and rounded on the corners and given a slick wax job. Nice bold flavors and smoothness at the dark end of the spectrum without getting all uppity about it. No surprises. Except for the truth in advertising on the label.
The 9.1% alcohol content in this beer is most definitely a sandbagger. Not so apparent in the first glass, but by beer #3, caution is best advised. The robust taste and smooth drinking will carry you away at first and then drop you off a cliff much later on. One definite truth was pointed out on the sixpack carton that it was “Bourbon Aged Sipping Beer.” That it is, that it is.
Frankly, I was quite surprised at the taste of this beer. An unknown brewery with no working website, the lack of taste description and the somewhat misleading label classification made me wonder if this beer would review worthy. I have to tell you that it most definitely was worth every sip.
Brewed in Minnesota, probably by Gluek Brewing, or not, I can’t venture a guess of where this beer would be available in the states. But one thing’s for sure. I’m glad it showed up here, in my town, in my garage and on my palate.
Taste: Confusing at first, delightful the rest of the way.
Smoothness: Another freshly paved asphalt road without all the tar smell.
Drinkability: Sliding on a waxed floor in socks.
Bang for the buck: N/A – a gift.
Paid price: N/A (gift)
Brewer’s website: (possibly compromised)
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Almost looks purple. (sniff) Not much of a smell. (sip) It’s a little bitter but not as bad as you’d think. (sip) Kinda grape tasting. It does have a little dryness to it. (sip) Not terrible for such a dark beer. (How she got purple and grapes out of that is beyond me. She must be coming down with a cold.)
My rating on Beer Citizen.
Video review from TheBeersGoneBad (it’s not a Russian!)
The Ballad of John Henry’s Hammer – Johnny Cash
[stextbox id=”info”]Shop for Authentic German Beer Glassware only at 1001BeerSteins.com. [/stextbox]