If you’re one of those people who doesn’t see much difference between a porter and a stout, Bourbon Barrel Black Maple from Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery in Athens, Ohio may be all the evidence you need to support your argument.
Initially released on draft in early 2014, Bourbon Barrel Black Maple represents a sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants creation. According to a commercial description, the brewers had an open brew day and made the decision to craft something big and bold. The resulting beer was then transferred to bourbon barrels where it sat for a full eleven months before being unleashed to the public for the first time. In August, the brewery announced the beer would be one of those to be released in new 375-ml bottles for limited distribution in Ohio as well as for sale on premises at the brewpub.
Though it inspires a stylistic rant to follow, Bourbon Barrel Black Maple is a very good beer that is certain to appeal to the connoisseur crowd. Bittersweet dark chocolate is the beer’s foundational element, but Black Maple is also brewed with locally-sourced Sticky Pete’s Maple Syrup.1 This provides an added sweetness that is more evident at cooler temperatures, especially in the finish. As the beer warms, though, the dark chocolate begins to take over—becoming more cocoa powder-esque—offset slightly by light wood tones and a hint of vanilla which sneaks in on the backend. It’s undeniably sweet, but not cloying, with moderate complexity and ample warmth thanks to an ABV of 11 percent.
Considering other aspects, for my taste I’d like a little more grain depth, as I don’t get much roast and I cannot taste any of the smoked malt that’s advertised on the label. Bourbon also casts a somewhat absentee ballot, leaving the other barrel elements to fend for themselves up against what is essentially a mountain of dark chocolate. Smoother carbonation might help, as the beer is somewhat prickly right out of the bottle. This has the effect of cleansing the palate to the point that the beer doesn’t linger long enough to allow for the discovery of other flavor elements that may be hiding underneath.