During last evening's session, Chris (or was it Jason?) make a point of explaining to our host (Barley Island owner Jeff Eaton) that we were beer geeks, not beer snobs. I think the point was to let Jeff know that we might be in over our heads on the beer talk. Once the brewery tour started, I might as well have been a passenger on the beer Titanic.
But that doesn't mean I couldn't appreciate the effort involved in bringing Barley Island's brews to your local liquor store. The amount of repetitive labor involved in packaging just a six pack had me thinking back to my days interning for the Department of Defense, where I once spent a week formatting diskettes - the IT department equivalent of peeling potatoes.
Every bottle of Barley Island beer that leaves their facility is individually loaded into a machine, where the beer label is affixed. Every cardboard six pack container is hand folded. The bottling process is just as intensive; bottles are loaded into a wooden hopper by hand, and then fed into a machine that fills the bottles and affixes the bottle cap.
Of course I haven't even mentioned the brewing process, because the steps involved are lost on me. But our tour was amazingly informative, and I now understand why the folks at BeerAdvocate.com included respecting brewers as a important step in reviewing beer.
I might as well get to the actual beer. Over the course of the evening I sampled five of Barley Island's products - The Dirty Helen Brown Ale, the Bourbon IPA, the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Oatmel Stout, an unfinished batch of the Sheet Metal Blonde, and the award winning Black Majic Java Stout.
I am not a drinker of hard liquor, so neither bourbon beer was particularly suited to my tastes. Both the IPA and the Stout had a strong nose of Bourbon, though the odor was a bit more prevalent in the Stout. If you had blindfolded me and placed the glass in front of me I never would have suspected I was smelling beer.
The IPA had a pumpkin colored cloudy appearance with very little head, while the Stout was a dark, flat brown, and looked almost like a glass of Coca-Cola. A sip of the IPA really brought out the bourbon, with a slightly flowery, hoppy note mixed in. It really tasted very similar to the way it smelled.
I felt like the bourbon worked better in the stout, where it wasn't overpowering and mixed well with the taste of coffee. It was a light and smooth beer, but not something you'd want to drink fast. Oddly enough, it made me think of film noir, cigarette smoke, and contemplative depression. But in a good, sort of romantic way.
Neither bourbon beer really suited my pallet, to be honest, but that isn't to say that I'm not a fan of Barley Island's work; Their Java Stout is right up my alley. And if you're a fan of Bourbon, I'm sure both of these beers are well worth your attention.
So there's a little bit of regret when I write that I'd give the Bourbon IPA (a qualified, but honest) 2.5 mugs, and the Bourbon Stout (a qualified, honest) 3 mugs.
I'd like to thank Jeff Eaton and the staff at Barley Island for their hospitality and time, and I hope to visit again soon.