In the beer world, one of the main states that produce more than their fair share of really interesting brews is surprisingly, Utah. Out of this group of fermented entrepreneurs, there are a few that really stand head and shoulders above the rest. One of these is the quite aptly named Epic Brewing Company. While they have quite a few very impressive styles, I would like to focus on one that blew my mind recently, their Smoked and Oaked Belgian-Style Ale.
Technically, a Belgian strong dark, (and, might I say, handsome), ale. This is one of those rotating beers they release every few months, with some slight variations in each. The one I tried was bottled in February 2012, and was aged for about two months in bourbon barrels. Ah, good ol’ bourbon barrels. If that is the Oaked, where is the Smoked?
For each iteration of this beer, there is a veritable laundry list of malt varieties. The one identified in the website blurb was the smoked Cherry Wood malt, certainly an alluring name. Now, this may be just me reading too much into these things, but I’m imagining that this particular malt will lend some sweetness to the beer, perhaps like cherries. The alcohol by volume for this particular bottle was nine percent, but collectively they appear to come in around 8 to 12 percent. The price came to just a dirty dozen of American dollars, but you can bet that the older versions are commanding more than that.
So, after a quick initial chill, (just below a ‘red wine’ temperature), I poured my portion into a snifter. The first thing I thought was, “Wow, I can see why they put ‘Smoked’ first.” It isn’t too overpowering, like being at a wood-burning barbecue, but it was definitely there. Giving it a few good whiffs, I got notes of the caramel malts, a bit of a boozy air, and some fruity Belgian yeast. The color was a bit like maple syrup, very clear and an amber brown. Much thinner than syrup of course, but with a kind of foamy carbonation. At first taste, I got notes of stone fruit and bourbon-vanilla sweetness. The bourbon was rather permeating, actually, but along with the smoky flavors, it gave me an interesting idea of a bourbon that was peated like a scotch. Oh, if I had a distillery…
Okay, enough daydreaming. In further tastes, you start to parse out the hops, but just barely. You get a slight earthy bitterness among the boozy heat, but neither linger for very long. One interesting trait was the mouth-feel. I say interesting because usually when the mouth-feel is anything worth noting, it is either because the carbonation is too strong, or it’s just plain ‘creamy’. This, however, had an altogether different effect, in that it differed on the size of sip you gave it. A good mouthful of this ale really lets the bubbles grow and open up much more oak and sweet malts. Quite interesting, and I suspect a feature of the Belgian yeast strain.
This is a good beer for sweet, strong ale lovers. Usually beers touting their smoked status are a one-trick pony, but this one doesn’t let itself stop at just ‘smoked’. Heck, even being smoked and oaked doesn’t quite do justice to the masterful mix of malts, hops and yeast that Epic has been bottling. I’ll be checking for the next release of Smoked & Oaked, and I’ll be purchasing one to drink, and one to age. Maybe I’ll write a review on that one in a year or two? Maybe.