Sunday, 31 January 2010

Now Drinking: Gadds Reserved Barrel Aged Barley Wine

I'm a bit tired - no wait, I'm knackered. The country is out of recession, and they all want to come and spend money at Beer-Ritz. Hooray for continued growth and prosperity, boo to being on your feet for nine hours at a time. All I wanted to do was come home, have a beer and go to bed.

There's a chap who comes into the shop every Sunday evening, and buys three bottles of decent beer. He bought some Gadds Reserved a few weeks ago and asked if I'd tried it. I said I hadn't but would try one and report back. He thought the one he'd bought was a bit odd - he thought it tasted of juniper.

Being a dutiful sort of a chap, with a love of a fairly strong beer for a nightcap after a long day standing around drinking Three Floyds Dark Lord and Courage Imperial Russian Stout, sorry, I mean selling quality beer to good people, I've come home, sloshed my bottle of Reserved into a glass, and have it in front of me.

I don't need to taste it to tell that it's got some sort of infection - it smells like dry Breton cider from a foot away. Out of duty, I have a mouthful - it's drinkable, but it's not really giving me any pleasure, and I'm not going to finish it. It's a shame, as the other Gadds beers I've tried (Pale No 3, Dogbolter Porter and India) are great.

If I was feeling generous, I might make an argument that a barrel-aged beer will always display a bit of "character". For example, Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout from last year (the cream labels) has developed a prominent barrel character. It's not totally unpleasant, but it's moved from being something that my better half was happy to have a sip of, to something that made her pucker her face in unhappiness. It's the nature of the beast, I guess.

Anyway, if I was judging this bottle of Reserved in a beer competition, I'd call for another sample. As it is, there isn't another bottle in the cellar, so I'm going to call for something else.


  1. I didn't really get this beer I must admit. There is a natural synergy between whisky barrels and beer, but red wine barrel and beer just didn't do it for me. Oooks! which is the unaged version of this was a really good beer though.

    Gadds are a really good brewery, I look forward to seeing what they do with their new brewing kit (Dark Star's old plant). Their No.3 is up against our Skrimshander IPA for best beer in the Taste Of Kent Awards this month. You could draw your own decision as you have a bottle of each!

  2. This is meant to be infected, as far as I know, taking the brett and wild yeast from inside the wine barrel. I think it's based on some of the US-style wine-barrel-aged beers, like those from Russian River. I personally think this is a fantastic beer!

  3. Got to agree with Mark on this one. I wasn't expecting it to taste the way it does, but I assumed the "infection" was intentional and really enjoyed it. I had mine before Christmas, could it be a case of the infection becoming more prominant (possibly too much so) with time?


  4. Pete - I think the problem is that there is an infection problem rather than no synergy between wine barrels and ageing beer in them

    Mark - there isn't automatically any wild yeast or brett (which as I'm sure you know, is a wild yeast itself) present in wine barrels, in fact most winemakers go to great lengths to avoid this. There certainly wasn't any brett character present in my bottle, but there was a lot of acetobacter influence. It certainly didn't taste anything like RR's wild beers that I've tried, although of course I can't talk about Eddie's intent when he put the beer in the barrel. To me, it was a spoiled beer rather than showing any interesting aged character

    Chunk - my bottle has been in a cold cellar for a few months, so I wouldn't expect it to be too different to yours. There could be a bit of bottle variation, I guess, which again doesn't really inspire confidence in the whole batch overall.

    I'll just add again that the other Gadd's beers I've tried have been excellent, but this one I thought was poor.

  5. This strikes me as the delusional part of extreme beer tasting. It's fucking horrible, therefore it must be complex and exciting and described as such, even if you need a clothes peg on your nose to drink it..

    And anyone who can't tell acetic from brett ought to be taken away and re-educated.

  6. I had one of these on NYE as a consolation after the sound system blew up at North at 11:50pm...

    It didn't improve my night... It tasted like seriously wrong Goudenband...I blamed it on Ed at the time...

  7. Maybe I need to try another bottle! I've had a couple so far and loved them both. I have one left.

  8. I guess this raises an interesting point - do we need to know what a beer should taste like before we can enjoy it?!

    I think this was an experimental beer that didn't come out as intended. My hunch is that it will only develop more "character" as it spends longer in the bottle. Sadly, it's not a character that I care for very much.

  9. I think brett is fantastic , acetic is something else entirely.

  10. OK, I aged a barley wine in a red wine barrel for fun. After a month the beer tasted fantastic: the oak was coming through nicely and the beer held it well; there was some red wine notes nicely balanced by crystal rye. All in all I was pretty amazed by it so I bottled it. After a few months it was obvious we had lifted some brett from the barrel but I quite liked the souring effect. It has gone a bit far now, however, so if anyone wants a replacement get in touch and I'll sort you out.

    I'm going to do it again but probably with fresh oak since I can't control brett.

  11. Hi Eddie, thanks for your comment, and your kind offer. I'm happy to chalk it up to experience rather than insist on a replacement - the other beers of yours that I've had have all been uniformly very good, so I figured this might have been a bad bottle, or past its best.

    For what it's worth, I've been speaking to a few English brewers who have aged in wood, and their approach is to get the beer to a point that they like, then micro-filter to stabilise it. Some re-prime with yeast at bottling, some don't, but all agree that bottling with live barrel flora is a bad idea - as you point out, brett (and other yeasts/bacteria) are very hard to control.

  12. Im not convinvced its necasarilly a bad idea to have barrel flora in the bottle. We have a barrel aged porter from a brewpub called Hallertau. The brett developes slowly and I think improves alot as it ages. Yes thier will be a point at which it peaks but thats the case for all living artisan products.

  13. Kieran, I was talking to an English brewer a few days ago who has a lot of barrel aged beer maturing. He believes that by careful manipulation of temperature, you can guide which organisms proliferate, but can never be certain. There is also a lot of barrel variation in one batch.

    And as noted, brett is something that can give complexity (although I'm not crazy about it myself), but there are a lot more things than brett knocking about in a wooden barrel.


Sorry about the word verification - the blog was getting spammed to bits.