Today is a bottle that has been a long time coming. I received it as a Christmas gift from my father and its name alone qualifies it as one of my more rare/interesting beers. First off, it’s barrel aged. This is more often than not a good start to a great beer though far from a prerequisite. Second, those barrels are whiskey barrels and not bourbon barrels. Not that there’s anything wrong with bourbon barrels, I just happen to be much more familiar with whiskey than bourbon, with few exceptions. Third, this is a barley wine – a style that lends itself unusually well to being made into big ol’ beers. Fourth, it’s a Belgian-style barley wine. This is just another layer of complexity that I’m looking forward to having wash over my taste buds. The bottle has this to say,
“On a recent trip through Belgium visiting the monastery breweries, we discovered an excellent barrel aged ale that had an incredibly satisfying flavor combination. Aging in oak barrels added a memorable richness, that we seek to achieve with this barrel aged Belgian-style barley wine-style ale. Being the ideal celebration beer to release on our 5-year anniversary, Barrel Aged Naked Evil is fermented with both British and Belgian yeasts and aged in whiskey barrels for a lightly spicy twist on this old-world beer style. Sweet malt flavors will become smoother and rich dark fruit characteristics will build with time to add a wonderful complexity and depth of flavor.”
Aroma 12/12: I smell this and instantly feel like I should be in more formal surroundings. You are immediately embraced by dark boozy fruits, raisins, vanilla, whiskey, and a lesser oak. It is simply a fantastic blend. As it warms the whiskey takes the forefront with strong tones of vanilla, toffee, a lesser oak, and a faint Belgian spiciness hidden in the back. The dark fruits are still very present, but know their place.
Appearance 3/3: Pours like silk with very little head. In fact, one wonders if they’ll receive any head at all until it begins to fade in at the middle of the glass and slowly push its way to the top like a person newly awakened and slowly making their way through the first of their morning routine. The ale’s legs on the other hand are ridiculous. They stick to the glass and show virtually no signs of falling. The color is a bright copper with an abundance of ruby glints, sunset orange hues, and earthy reds. Gorgeous.
Flavor 20/20: Oh my! This begins in the same sweet fashion as the aroma with boozy fruits, but makes a gradual and seamless transition into vanilla, toffee, candi sugar, and more whiskey. Somehow the oak is not completely subdued by all these imposing flavors and still manages to make its own small contribution. Sitting in the mouth it continues to enjoy all those confectionery inspired flavors and ceased to be quelled. The finish is like the smoothest, sweetest shot you could imagine. Think high end, “no burn” whiskey, and caramelized hardened sugar. Oh, but add amazing dark fruits and oak. Enticed yet? The aftertaste adds some bitter, but it appears to be a result of the dark fruits and alcohol, not so much that of hops. Absolutely wondrous, rich flavor as complex as it is harmonious.
Mouthfeel 5/5: The mouthfeel was the first clue that this beer was not going to be Belgian-style in a yeasty, banana, bubble gun, clove, spicy kind of way. It was going to be a Belgian-style in a quad, knock your socks off, highly carbonated, dark fruit kind of way. Carbonation is initially pretty strong, but fades to a perfectly appropriate level; being present to provide texture, but never allowing that sensation to become too strong or to distract from the flavor. It also never threatens to lighten the medium-full body. Obviously, the whiskey provides some heat to the beer at 11.3% ABV, but again in congenial way where it never threatens to usurp the other more important flavors. The spiciness incorporated by the brewers doesn’t hurt one bit either, nor does the way it leaves the mouth sticky with caramel in the aftertaste.
Overall Impression 10/10: A masterpiece for Hoppin’ Frog! By far the best offering of theirs that I have ever tasted. It is a rich, superbly blended cornucopia of Belgian quad goodness: active carbonation, dark fruits, whiskey heat, and smooth as you please. Good gracious! Can we all sign a petition so that they’ll make this again?
Total 50/50: Well, Hoppin’ Frog has joined the elite ranks as one of the few beers to earn a perfect score on Sud Savant. Deservedly so. This beer is fantastic! The barleywine style that they claim in their descriptor can be difficult to find sometimes, especially if the drinker is more accustomed to the more common “American Barleywine” style. However, as a traditional or “English barleywine,” this beer is a marvelous blending of styles. It incorporates all the malty, caramel-laden, fruity, boozy, silky goodness that we’ve come to know and love and combines it with even more dark fruits, active carbonation, and spice from the Belgian style. On top of that it throws in whiskey and oak! What else could you want?! The correct answer? Some in your glass and then some in your stomach. Top marks to Hoppin’ Frog! What a beautiful bruiser!
Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!