There can only be one undistributed beer of the week. The competition is fierce in San Diego's beer community, but someone has to take the title. This week's best undistributed beer is...
Alesmith Brewing: Port Barrel-aged Wee Heavy
Style: Scotch Ale aged in Port Wine Barrels
Pair with: buttermilk cookies
This brew puts a spin on Alesmith Brewing's already smooth and extraordinarily malty Wee Heavy. The port-barrel aged version offers a more complex, robust flavor that compliments the Scotch-style ale perfectly. The wine-barrel aged beer boasts an impressive amount of flavor with notes of caramel, cranberry, grape must, toffee, dried figs and vanilla.
This beer comes to us from Anthony Chen, brewer at Alesmith Brewing Co. DiscoverSD had the opportunity to hear from Chen and Peter Cronin, Alesmith's quality technician, who also worked closely with this outstanding beer. The brew, which started out as the brewery's standard Scotch-style Ale called Wee Heavy, was expanded into the deeply flavorful port barrel-aged version released this year.
The aging process, done in port-wine barrels, allowed for some delicious wine-like flavors of grape, dried fruit, vanilla and wine tannins to come forward in the finished product. The insane amount of flavor in one brew makes this pick a must-try specialty from Alesmith.
Chen affectionately calls Barrel-Aged Wee Heavy the "the dark horse" who has been on hold and waiting to be brought to the spotlight, among their popular barrel-aged brews.
"The port version of our barrel-aged Wee Heavy is the hard-hitting, light-footed brother we've been holding the reins on for the right time to release," he said.
Although the beer is quite different from most of the quality Alesmith brews we enjoy sipping on, Cronin explains how the beer is pretty traditional to the Scottish-style. The combination makes for a wine-like beer that is smooth, sweet and still malty.
"The Scottish have been aging their whiskey in sherry, Madeira and port barrels for centuries. We decided to follow suit, racking our traditional Scotch-style ale into port barrels where it aged for over a year," Cronin said. "The interplay between Wee Heavy's subtle smokiness and those darker fruits from the wine as well as the tannin-speckled oak - it's just a beautiful thing."
Chen further relays how important the oak barrel really is in creating that rare taste quality that makes for a one-of-a-kind creation.
"As the beer ages on the port barrel, the oak naturally imparts vanillin while remnants of port merges with the beer to enhance the already prominent dark fruit with bright fruity notes of raisins, plums, and hints of cherry," Chen said. "Underneath all of it, the intricate sugars of caramel and toffee play the underlying role of harmonizing the myriad flavors into one highly quaffable strong ale."
This beer was released in a limited quantity of bottles, only available for purchase at the brewery itself. One interesting part about this beer is how well its flavors stand true in bottles, along with several others of Alesmith's collection. Why is that? According to Cronin, it's due in part to the filtration process.
"We never filter our barrel-aged beer, making sure that everything that makes them so incredibly cellarable goes right into our bottles," he said.
Cronin admits that this beer tops his favorite list for Alesmith's barrel-aged varieties.
"Personally, I bought seven bottles," he said. "I have one in my fridge at home that I'm drinking this weekend, but the rest are going away for at least a year."
This beer is on tap for a limited time at Alesmith Brewing Co. Get it while it's cold!
Alesmith Brewing Company, 9990 Alesmith Court, Miramar. alesmith.com