A quick stop into Manchester’s Beermoth bottle shop led me to dropping £12.90 on a single bottle of beer. That was a new record for me, but I had to have it when I saw it was a stout, aged for 6 months in old Ardbeg whisky casks, and brewed by Cloudwater – one of my two favourite breweries. I’d loved everything I’d tried by Cloudwater up to that point, and Ardbeg is a favourite distillery too. I didn’t think about it for too long, so there’d be no chance I’d change my mind.
This then, is Cloudwater Imperial Stout Ardbeg, checking in at 10.7%. It’s a largish bottle (750ml), that should get you smashed like Special Brew, should you drink it all in one go, so I saved this for a time when Pablo came over. He absolutely loved it and, just as with the Ola Dubh, he gave it 5 stars on Untappd straight away.
I was more conservative, opting for 4 out of 5. Imperial Stout probably isn’t my genre, in all honesty, but I definitely enjoyed the influence that the Ardbeg casks exerted. It was kind of a background thing, almost as if you were tasting something from another dimension, that made this beer one of the most complex I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps the elements weren’t married as seamlessly as the aforementioned Ola Dubh, but this was certainly an intriguing experiment.
Soon after, my other favourite brewery, Thornbridge released Eldon, a 7% beer that had been aged in bourbon casks. I added two bottles to my order, which I would have done anyway, regardless of bourbon cask ageing, and eagerly awaited the day I got to open one.
Sadly, any disappointment at the volume of Eldon being only 330ml instead of the usual 500ml is compounded by the beer not quite reaching the standard I have come to expect – not bad beer, just not great, and not as distinctive, either as other Thornbridge fare from beer in general, or as distinctive as the other whisky cask aged beers I’ve been trying have turned out to be. I gave the other bottle to Mrs Cake, and she absolutely loved it.
Almost by mistake I recently bought a bourbon aged sour beer – Bourbon Skyline by Buxton Brewery (7.2%). It was a little overpriced perhaps at £5 for (I think 375ml), but really very good. I could tastethe bourbon early in the experience, though this faded as the sipping progressed. I scored that one 4 out of 5.
In conclusion, ageing stout in old whisky barrels seems to me to really add another dimension to a genre of beer that wouldn’t tend to be a favourite of mine. Sure, it tends to ramp up the cost quite a bit, but you can pay a lot for sub-standard beers too. What I’d be looking for, if I were going to drop a substantial amount on one of these, would tend to be a favourite brewery and a renowned distillery. Then you can look forward to trying your favourite product in a new way, and hopefully a way that channels the qualities of some top class whisky.