"This is unique," says Vintage brewmaster Scott Manning of his latest creation. InAbsinthia is a robust blend of English and Belgian brewing tradition, aged for nearly a half-year in an absinthe barrel. With its layers of flavor, spicy notes of licorice and alcoholic warmth, InAbsinthia isn't for everyone. Adventuresome drinkers and those who love to find rare, limited-release beers, this is one you need to try.
What is it? InAbsinthia from Vintage Brewing Company.
Style: At the heart of InAbsinthia is an English version of a barleywine, a style that characteristically features robust caramel and chocolate flavors. They can be quite strong, exceeding 10% ABV. Manning has also blended in a small amount of Belgian dubbel, a style with hints of chocolate and caramel with fruity and earthy sweetness from Belgian yeast. Dubbels are usually moderately strong, ranging from 6% to 8% ABV. The blended beer was then allowed to further ferment and condition in a barrel used to make absinthe, a potent distilled spirit made with anise, fennel and a variety of herbs.
Background: The main beer that goes into InAbsinthia is Vintage's barleywine Milestone. Milestone's English barleywine roots include Marris Otter malt, which provides smooth caramel, biscuit and bready flavors. It's fermented with a very traditional English yeast, a strain similar to what goes into the renowned Thomas Hardy's Ale. Before sealing the barrel, Manning tops it off with some of his Belgian dubbel, Dedication, a beer that he enjoys aging on its own in a variety of different barrels for different flavors.
"I thought blending the two strong ales would be a nice complement to the absinthe barrel," says Manning. Given the strong licorice flavor of absinthe, Manning did consider using a Russian Imperial Stout with the barrel, but instead felt that the maltiness of the barleywine and the sweetness of the dubbel would make for a better blend. Those creative instincts were not wrong.
"Any time you fill a used barrel, the essence of what was inside comes pouring out," says Manning. The absinthe barrel had "a pretty amazing aroma, licorice and herbal notes, and I knew we were going to have something really special."
The beer remained in the barrel for almost six months. InAbsinthia is a strong beer at 10.5% ABV. It's offered at the west-side Vintage in 10-ounce pours for $7. It is not sold in growlers. The beer is also expected to turn up briefly later this month at Dexter's Pub and Alchemy.
- Aroma: Assertive aroma of licorice/anise.
- Appearance: Hazy bronze-ruby color, with a soft, tan head.
- Texture: Full-bodied, lots of thick mouthfeel, with warmth from the beginning.
- Taste: Lots of layers of flavor. The anise aromas are strong in the front and in the finish, keeping that licorice flavor front and center throughout. However, it you concentrate, you'll find solid barleywine character with caramel, biscuit-bready maltiness and a light fruitiness in the background.
- Finish: The barrel flavors with touches of oak and vanilla come out in the finish and blend with the licorice. That lends smooth spice and warmth to the ending.
Glassware: The snifter is ideal for showing off the deep color while the inward lip focuses the aroma of anise toward the nose. Snifters also encourage sipping, and that's just what this beer is about. Drink it slowly and allow it to gradually warm to bring out the sweetness of the malts and even more of the spicy licorice flavors.
Pairs well with: This is an after-dinner drink or nightcap, best enjoyed on its own. The assertive anise qualities are difficult to match with food, and they will linger.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Consensus: InAbsinthia has not received enough ratings to be evaluated by BeerAdvocate or RateBeer.
The Verdict: InAbsinthia certainly meets the definition of a beer geek's beer, since licorice has a limited following, and a little can go a long way.
I really enjoyed this beer. I'm not a huge fan of anise, but the way the absinthe blends with the English barleywine's malty sweetness leaves a robust and enticing impression. I really love its complexity, with layers of flavor that wowed me. The licorice aroma and flavor are up front, but it doesn't take long to find the barleywine's caramel and chocolate maltiness, which blends in a background of light fruity sweetness and hints of grape and plum from the dubbel. A warm, spicy, alcoholic finish and inklings of the barrel's contribution (in vanilla and oak notes) are topped off with a final kick of anise-licorice.