By Richard Thomas
It’s a good time to be drinking in America, with decades-long interest in craft beers, fine wines, and good spirits spurring small, high-end producers across the country. The days when your choices were “Mass Market Product A,” “Mass Market Product B,” and “Subpar Product #1” are long gone. One way in which these parallel developments in drinks dovetail together is bourbon barrel-finished beer.
Such is the story of the bourbon stout from Full Sail Brewing, located in an old cannery in Hood River, Oregon. An employee-owned company that dates back to the late 1980s, Full Sail is one of Oregon’s earliest micro-breweries. If you know anything about beer in Oregon, that is really saying something.
As befits a meeting of whiskey and beer, the story behind the Full Sail Bourbon Stout goes back a ways. This third installment of Full Sail’s Bourbon Barrel Stout was brewed in December 2011 and then aged for a full year in casks from Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Jim Beam. The stout was then bottled for a February 2013 release. If you read between the lines there, you know that technically this is a limited edition beer. Full Sail might make more, but that second batch might also be noticeably different.
The Full Sail Bourbon Stout comes in big 22 oz bottles, and packs a 9.6% abv. In the glass, this stuff is as black as pitch, and it has a texture to match. Recall that the usual joke about Guinness stout is that a pint is a meal, and that it’s thick enough to eat with a spoon. Full Sail Bourbon Stout makes Guinness and most other stouts look watery by comparison. Between the very high alcohol content and the rich, filling character of the beer, this stout is best shared with a friend.
The nose is musty bourbon barrel toasty mixed with coffee roast, tinged with chocolate and malt. The incredibly rich, creamy flavor is like cocoa infused with bourbon vanilla, with a closing note of bitter coffee, disappearing quickly to leave behind sweet bourbon vanilla aftertaste. The finish winds down on a creamy choco-coffee note.
There is a lot to love about this bourbon stout. If it has a downside, its in being so thick and filling that drinking an entire bottle of this creamy, sweet stuff is akin to eating a portion and a half at desert. If you can’t split a bottle of Full Sail Bourbon Stout with a friend, be prepared to spend a lot of time with it.