Since its inaugural bottling run in December 2009, Bourbon Barrel Quad has been one of the more popular releases in the Smokestack Series of beers produced by Boulevard Brewing Company. Intended as an annual release, it has appeared on shelves every year except 2012, when the brewery announced that the beer had not developed fully and therefore would not be out again until the end of 2013.
Oftentimes referred to as BBQ, Bourbon Barrel Quad was the sixth beer to be added to the Smokestack Series following Boulevard Saison, The Sixth Glass, Double-Wide IPA, Long Strange Tripel and Saison-Brett. Among the five, the middle three are year-round beers, while Saison-Brett is a limited release and the Saison was eventually replaced by Tank 7. Bourbon Barrel Quad is limited as well, and while some Smokestack beers have appeared in four-packs, its vintages have only seen the light of day in corked and caged 750ml bottles.
The 2014 edition of BBQ displays a similar appearance to that of its predecessors, being a sort of murky mahogany color after being uncorked and transferred into a glass. An inches thick layer of beige foam builds quickly, the result of some fairly active carbonation. This is a minor annoyance since it takes time for the head to dissipate to the point of drinkability, but thankfully the beer itself doesn’t seem overly carbonated on the tongue.
Taking in the aroma, rich waves pf bourbon and brown sugar fill the air at first, after which the initial intensity fades to reveal an abundance of additional flavors. Notes of caramel and toffee are derived from the grains used, with fruit esters coming from the yeast, and elements of oak, vanilla and bourbon, of course, being attributable to the barrels. Cherries are to be found as well, something Boulevard adds to the mix during aging to give the beer more character. This, say say, is a way to make up for complexities lost due to evaporation while being stored.1
Taste favors bourbon, but only ever so slightly, with the balance of the other ingredients maintaining a subtle presence. Considering everything that’s going on in this beer, it’s surprising that one or more of the flavor elements doesn’t take on a more dominant tone. Even the cherries manage to toe the line, adding only soft flavors throughout and a hint of quenching tartness in the finish.
It’s not a heavy beer, as the body tilts more towards medium, but BBQ is nothing if not immensely warm. The alcohol doesn’t really makes its presence known until the aftertaste, but when it does it comes on a little strong. Other than that the beer drinks pretty easily, being somewhat dry with a slightly chewy palate and a mild tannic bitterness.