Beginning in 2008, Deschutes Brewery has released a barrel-aged version of its flagship Black Butte Porter annually to celebrate the anniversary of its opening in 1988. To mark 25 years of operation in 2013, Deschutes released Black Butte XXV, an imperial porter brewed with dates, figs and cocoa nibs. For XXV, half of the beer is aged in bourbon casks and an eighth of the beer is aged with blackcurrants1 added before the batch is blended back together for the final bottling.
The 25th anniversary release was available in wax-dipped 22-oz bottles and like many of Deschutes’ special releases carries a “best after” date intended to allow the beer to age and for flavors to meld together prior to consumption.2
Black Butte XXV pours a very deep black with absolutely no light passing through the glass. There is a substantial amount of light caramel head that recedes somewhat but remains for a minute or two before fading into a thin film of bubbles on the surface. A subtle lacing is left around the rim of the glass and there are steady streams of bubbles rising here and there.
The initial nose is heavy with sweet, dried fruit and an underlying fragrance reminiscent of soy sauce. For half of the beer being aged in bourbon barrels, I do not detect much bourbon in the aroma.
My first taste of XXV is heavily sweet backed with hints of molasses. The booze punches above its weight, only coming in at 11.3 percent but leaves a certain amount of volatility on the tongue that makes me think the beer is less bourbon barrel aged and closer to bourbon fortified. The carbonation is really great for my taste and aids in producing a thick, velvety mouthfeel with a rich, smooth finish that disappointingly fades a little sooner than I would like. It’s almost like having the perfect bite of chocolate mousse that turns into chocolate milk as you swallow it. As I continue to sip the beer I pick up flavors of plums and raisins backed with a significant amount of roasted malts as one would expect with an imperial porter. I do get a slight amount of bitterness mid-palate that is somewhat off-putting at first but it does fade gradually into a subtle and pleasant currant tartness.
As Black Butte XXV warms up in the glass the oak and vanilla from the bourbon casks comes forward, merging with the cocoa nibs and producing flavors that bring to mind chocolate covered cherries. The mouthfeel continues to be quite luscious and rich, resulting in a beer that I am happy to sip and savor until my glass is empty.
I am a big fan of bourbon, the spirit. I am also a big fan of bourbon barrel-aged beers and most of my favorites of the style rely heavily on the bourbon barrel to impart its signature flavor in a fairly assertive way. Prior to opening this beer I was hoping that it would be the same bourbon-forward flavor profile I had come to know and love, seeing as how half of it was barrel-aged.