by Brian Wall
Beers can surprise you. Beers can elude you. Beers can be made with a plethora of flavors and styles that may sound good and be better than expected or be worse than expected. In this case, Widmer Brothers Brewing has proved that the beers can be quite tasty.
Widmer Brothers started as many brewers did, by home brewing when it was legalized in 1979. Fast forward five years and they started their brewery with a small amount of beers. Fast forward to today and the listed offerings, past and present, exceed one hundred beers. Other past tastes have been impressive and enjoyable so my expectation of these two beers were quite high.
The first beer tasted was the Vanilla Barrel Aged Ale. This ale is made with ninety percent aged ale on bourbon barrel aged winter warmer with vanilla pods. It is then mixed with ten percent standard ale and bottled with an off-white wax seal. The beer gave off a strong scent of the bourbon barrel and a strong nod to its 10.7% abv. Color was a nice, mahogany brown. The initial taste was very strong in alcohol but not any form of alcohol burn. The beer is light in malt flavor and not noticeable hop note.
The vanilla is very subtle on the back taste but lost mostly in the strong alcohol flavor. As the beer warmed up to room temperature, the caramel and oak flavors became more prevalent but the vanilla was still subtle. A good winter warmer but the vanilla could be more prominent.
The second beer tasted was the brother/sister beer, the Ginger Barrel Aged Ale. This beer is made in a similar fashion but with fresh ginger added to the barrel rather than vanilla. Scent is very similar to ginger ale but with a slight alcohol presence. The color is the same, deep mahogany. The flavor is distinctly different as expected, with a very large ginger presence. This ginger decreases the alcohol note in the vanilla and is very prominent without being spicy as some fresh ginger offerings may be. The ABV is the same at 10.7%.
The Ginger Barrel Aged Ale is more similar to a fresh ginger beer with the ginger heat than a true ale with ginger. Definitely not expected as strong a ginger presence as offered but refreshing and pleasant. If you are not a ginger fan, stay away, you will not like this beer.
Out of these two beers, the Ginger Barrel Aged is the most outstanding of the flavors. The vanilla is pleasant enough but the ginger is the more robust of the flavors. Being that both are winter warmers, the alcohol is definitely strong and noted for the style. As I have made note in the past, the colder months are more preferable for this category of beer rather than the warmer months. Enjoy while you can as these beers are a first and potential one-time offerings. Slàinte.