Barrel aging beer dates back hundreds of years with lambic brewers in Belgium but in the last 30 years or so American brewers started adopting the practice. In the early 1990s, Goose Island Beer Co. is recognized as being one of the first breweries to age an imperial stout in a bourbon barrel and slowly other brewers started to follow. Founders Brewing Co. was not far behind as they were the first to release a barrel-aged stout in bottles when KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) was released in 2003.
For the next decade, more and more breweries jumped on the trend but the big flavorful beers were generally relegated to rare brewery-only releases, but in the past 10 years they have become everyday mainstays on bottle shop shelves across the country. The vast majority of the barrel-aged beers today are stouts followed by barleywine or old ales but I always enjoy trying other styles that were laid to rest in used spirit barrels.
Today’s review is Underground Mountain Brown from Founders. For this beer, Founders put an imperial brown ale in bourbon barrels along with Sumatra coffee and left it to mature in bourbon barrels in the caves beneath Grand Rapids, Mich. for a year. The final product clocks in at 11.9 percent ABV and was released last year in September.
Underground Mountain Brown pours a deep muddy brown that is just a few shades away from black. A couple of fingers of khaki head fade to a thin frothy layer of head after a minute or so. The aroma pops out of the glass after the pour with layers of lightly roasted coffee, chocolate fudge and oak. So far, a great start. There is a noticeable vanilla character from the barrel as well as a bit of molasses.
The beer has a great creamy mouthfeel and a little more carbonation than I am used to seeing in a double-digit ABV barrel-aged beer but it works well here. The coffee is the first thing that jumps out on the flavor. Even with Underground Mountain Brown being almost a year old the coffee is still standing strong. I get a bit of age on the coffee but not to the point that it comes off stale. I don’t get any green pepper notes, which I tend to get from time to time in aged coffee beers. I do get a good amount of roasted malts but more the flavor one would get from the darker end of the crystal malt scale rather than the deep roast and acrid flavors I would expect from a black malt. Subtle notes of burnt caramel and vanilla help round out the flavor.
The finish starts out with very noticeable wood tannins then after a few seconds, you get a wave of dark roasted coffee and the bitterness one would get from a cup of black coffee. It is a softer bitterness but it still has a bit of a drying quality on the tongue. The alcohol shows up a bit in the finish but it just a little pop of alcohol and does not detract from the sip at all.