New Belgium Brewing’s limited edition Oakspire Bourbon Barrel Ale has lived many lives during its brief existence. It began in 2018 as a holiday release in partnership with Knob Creek, which is where we first and last encountered it. In 2020, New Belgium used the label to dip their toe into the cocktail-inspired beer world with an Old-Fashioned release, complete with bitters and other flavorings. In 2021, they returned to the original bourbon barrel ale concept but this time in partnership with Four Roses, a beloved Kentucky distillery that had already proven its potential with Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Ops (among others). That partnership appears to have been a winning one as Oakspire returned in 2022 once again proudly sporting the Four Roses badge on its label. We’ve missed some growing up for this one, but let’s see how its drinking in this latest iteration.
Oakspire pours a golden, high-polished copper with a cream soda head. Like our initial experience with its debut, the beer is devoid of the overly sweet and boozy notes that typically come to mind when you think bourbon aging and beer. That’s because this beer isn’t actually aged inside bourbon barrels. Instead, oak spirals and barrel char from select Four Roses bourbon barrels are added to the ale for an unspecified period of time and presumably inside a neutral vessel. This allows the strong, amber ale profile at its core to find more harmony with classic bourbon barrel notes of vanilla bean and chewy caramel, which are all on the palate, by the way. The aroma barely nods to bourbon with the malty, roasted notes of the ale dominating. Unlike the inaugural Oakspire, there’s no real bitterness at play. The palate remains rounded and gently malty with a balanced honeycomb sweetness and a clean, warming finish.
Beer geeks looking for a big, boozy Goose Island Bourbon County-style experience will be disappointed in this one. But for those looking for a bolder, balanced, and subtly nuanced brew, you could do a lot worse.
B+ / $16 per 6-pack / newbelgium.com