If you want the short version of this review you only have to answer this one question – do you like bourbon? If so, read on because you'll like this beer. If not, well…you might still like this beer but the chances definitely go down.
Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. is better known as Kentucky Ale. As you may have already guessed, these fine folks in Lexington Kentucky frequently cross the line between distilling spirits and brewing beer. Some might frown on that practice. I happen to applaud it. Kentucky Ale started brewing beers before beginning to dabble in bourbon, liqoured up coffee and a malt whiskey. Although I haven't tried all of their products I feel pretty comfortable when I type that they know what it is that they do when they do it.
So…I really, really like bourbon. Ergo, I really, really like Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. It's unique, crisp, refreshing and a good drinkable ale. Let's get to pouring shall we?
Wait. So I should also self disclose that I'm a huge Justified fan. And this beer has been "featured" on the show in some well placed product placement scenes. And it actually goes hand in hand with all the drama, sexiness, humor and tasfulness of the incredibly well scripted and acted FX series conceived by Elmore Leonard's book "Fire in the hole". So if you like the show as well, try sipping this beer while tuning in on Tuesday nights. The experience is transcendent.
Ok, NOW let's get to pouring.
The color is a rich amber with distinct hints of orange that glow against the light. Its appearance is very much reminiscent of a neat glass of bourbon. About a finger's width of white head is all that separates it visually from its namesake. That and it's a bit brighter in the glass than a Kentucky bourbon. But your eyes are definitely right to question, just as the nose will be…
The smell is worlds apart from any other beer. It's like taking a big sniff of well aged bourbon from the boozy alcohol burn to the hints of sweet vanilla and toffee. Another draw through the nose can pick up on the maltbill, albeit faintly. This smell is all bourbon.
As is the taste for the most part. No surprise by this point in time. The taste buds give a nod to the earlier senses but take it a few steps further as the bourbon notes of caramel and vanilla add to it a grainy malty taste that is distinctly beer. A second quaff recognizes the old ale characteristics but with an added flourish that is distinctly bourbonesque. The marriage between the oaky grains and the sweet bourbon characteristics is pleasant from start to finish.
The mouthfeel is warm and boozy, as expected. But the carbonation really carries the ale well. Just as sipping a good bourbon can bring a welcome burn at the end, the ale's finish delivers a hefty punch. But I never get the feeling that it's too much. This is listed as 8.19% ABV and it's not really until the end that you feel that altogether.
Overall, this uniquely crafted ale perpetually dances on the line between a bourbon and a beer. It's an experience in drinkable duality that few others can provide for bourbon drinkers who also like beer. The back and forth between the sweetness and the bite of the alcohol is quite enjoyable. I can find this one refreshing on a hot day, comforting in front of a fire or rounding out a good meal after the plates have been cleared. Nicely done.
In short, this is one both Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens can enjoy at the back end of some Harlan County holler. Just make sure Mags Bennett didn't alter the aspects of the glass prior to pouring. Enjoy.