Goose Island is well known for its Bourbon County barrel-aged line, but there are several other beers in their Barrel House offerings that don’t touch a bourbon barrel. One of those is this: Islay Scotch Barrel Imperial Stout. This beer is aged in barrels from Scotland’s Ardbeg Distillery, which uses malt peated to between 50 and 55 ppm, generally the highest of the Islay distillers. So how does this marriage of beer and uber-peated whisky taste?
The beer pours a silky dark chocolate with a thin chestnut brown head that quickly dissipates. I’ve never studied the nose on a barrel-aged beer for very long, but this one is worthy of some pondering. Most are subtle variations on boozy and sweet, but the Islay barrel has added remarkable nuance here. Dark chocolate and sweet biscuit notes give way to more savory aromas of candied bacon, wood smoke, ocean air, and sea salt.
The palate, unfortunately, provides a less enthralling experience. The vanilla and chocolate notes from the stout clash almost immediately with the Ardbeg barrel. There’s iodine and sour peat, a little ginger, and salt-cured meat. The smoke is less seafaring and more wet ashtray and match heads. The finish is lengthy, but the mortal combat between creamy/sweet and smoky/sour doesn’t ease up much. In the end, the stout just simply doesn’t find any balance with all that peat. Perhaps not surprisingly, this one tasted better when consumed like a Scotch: slowly and at room temperature. But who wants to drink their beer that way?
B- / $10 (per 12oz bottle) / gooseisland.com