Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps Brewing is launching a line of barrel-aged beers. The first in the series is a Belgian golden strong that’s aged for six months in chardonnay barrels.
What is it? "Roll Out the Barrel" Belgian-style golden ale from 3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan
Style: The Belgian golden strong ale emerged following World War II as an alternative to the pilsner. While this beer looks similar to the pilsner, the Belgian golden is stronger, with a much different flavor. It is a light- to medium-bodied beer with lots of effervescence, and the flavor profile is much more complex with fruit and yeast esters.
There can be hoppiness, but it’s often subdued, sometimes just a touch of bitter dryness. There is a spicy background in these beers, with hints of pepper and tones of dryness that complement a modest amount of alcohol, between 7.5%-10.5% ABV. The Belgian golden strong is also known for names that reference the devil, perhaps a reminder of its deceptive strength. Duvel is perhaps one of the most widely recognized examples of the style.
Background: This recipe has been in development for at least two years. Grant Pauly, founder of 3 Sheeps, says he needed to find the right chardonnay barrels. “They had to be barrels with really good buttery chardonnay flavor, that was one of the requirements,” he says. He eventually went through a barrel broker to find what he was looking for from winemakers in California.
For several years 3 Sheeps has been making limited and one-off batches of beer using oak spires and staves, adding wood into the boil or fermenter. This Belgian golden strong marks the first beer Pauly is releasing in which the beer ages and conditions in wood barrels. He’s not stopping there; 3 Sheeps, plans to release several more of these beers this year. Some will be aged in bourbon barrels, or those used for red wine. A batch of Ewephoria Ginger Stout aged in Nicaraguan rum barrels is slated for a December release. All of these barrel-aged beers are in the brewery’s big bottle format, the "Nimble Lips Noble Tongue" series.
This beer ends up at 10.7 % ABV. It’s sold in 22-ounce bomber bottles for around $13. The bottles are sealed with gold plastic, resembling wax, for those who like to save brews like this. Unfortunately, the plastic is a hard barrier and a challenge to opening the bottle. One has to whittle it away get at the bottle cap.
Aroma: Yeasty, with a light aroma of white wine.
Appearance: Clear golden, with a thin, soft, bubbly, white head.
Texture: Full-bodied, bubbly and smooth. The current release on store shelves now may not be at the level of carbonation (sometimes on the level of a champagne) that one might look for in the style; however cellaring the bottles could augment the carbonation.
Taste: A soft, earthy-fruity-yeastiness lets you know this is a Belgian beer. There’s also a very firm background of buttery chardonnay sweetness and hints of oak.
Finish/Aftertaste: The yeast sweetness blends with the hints of chardonnay. Some light warmth is evident.
Glassware: This is an excellent beer to enjoy in a small chalice to show off its deep golden color and to encourage slow sipping to help bring out the buttery chardonnay and oak tones.
Pairs well with: I enjoy this as an after-dinner drink with its high ABV and sweetness. If you're looking to nibble on something while sipping, try a soft, buttery Camembert cheese.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers.
The Verdict: This golden strong is rich, smooth and warm. The elegant blend of yeasty esters and fruity sweetness eventually melts into tones of chardonnay and oak. While the Belgian yeast remains upfront, there’s enough chardonnay character that it got me thinking about how wines and beers, in the right setting and brew house, can be a wonderful marriage of flavor. This beer is one that rises to the top of my list of early favorites in 2015. Grant Pauly showcases creativity and skill, and it’s a great introduction to 3 Sheeps’ barrel-aging program.