Wood-aged beers, especially those aged in bourbon and whiskey barrels, can offer a magnificent marriage of beer with the oak and vanilla flavor of the wood and whatever spirit was in the barrels. Slugger is a whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout. In past years, the only sure way to obtain it was to head to the brewery in Potosi, Wisconsin. This year, it’s being sold in bomber bottles in Madison.
What is it? Slugger whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout from Potosi Brewing Company.
Style: The imperial stout is deep reddish-bronze to dark black in color with malty aroma and robust flavors of toffee, caramel, roasted chocolate and coffee. They can be quite strong beers with spicy warmth at 7 to 9 percent ABV. There’s some variation in what’s called an imperial stout. American versions are more commonly bitter and roasted, while English interpretations emphasize the complexity of the malt.
Background: Slugger has been a limited specialty release for Potosi since 2010. It’s made in the summer and aged in whiskey barrels before being released in fall a whole year later. In the past it was made using Templeton rye whiskey barrels. However, in 2015, brewmaster Steve McCoy couldn’t get them from that small western Iowa distillery. Templeton barrels have become highly sought after by craft brewers, especially those in the Midwest. For the 2016 vintage of Slugger, McCoy used barrels from the Colorado distillery that makes Stranahan’s, a well-respected single-malt whiskey.
Slugger is robust even before it goes into the barrels to age. It has rich dark color and roastedness from the combination of caramel, Munich and chocolate malts. And it’s bittered with Millennium hops.
Slugger finishes at 10.5 percent ABV. It’s sold in single 22-ounce bombers for around $20. It’s best to call first to see if your favorite liquor store has any left. The brewery shipped about half of its supply to Madison and Milwaukee in early November, with most stores getting just one or two cases. Some stores limit sales to one bottle per customer. Those most serious about getting Slugger (or any of Potosi’s limited barrel releases) might be better off making a visit to Potosi.
Potosi has already brewed Slugger for 2017; that vintage is currently aging in Templeton rye whiskey barrels. The brewery says it tripled the amount it made, based on the 2016 release, which should mean it will be somewhat easier to find next fall.
Aroma: Assertive whiskey aroma with roasted maltiness.
Appearance: Black body and a marbled tan head.
Texture: Full-bodied, soft and round. Alcoholic warmth from the start.
Taste: Lots of roasted chocolate maltiness that lends a coffee-like bitterness to the background. The whiskey, oak and vanilla are strong throughout.
Finish/Aftertaste: Lingering roasted chocolate malt with whiskey flavor and alcohol warmth.
Glassware: A snifter will encourage slow sipping to appreciate the layers of malt and strong background of whiskey and oak.
Pairs well with: This is a beer for sipping on its own or enjoying as an after-dinner companion to chocolate or caramel desserts.
The Verdict: Initially I was disappointed to learn that Steve McCoy wasn’t using Templeton rye whiskey barrels for this year’s batch. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the 2016 version. It’s wonderful for a barrel-aged beer. There’s strong smoky aroma and flavor with a pronounced roasted bitter background. The solid stout flavors marked by roasted chocolate malt are complemented by the assertive whiskey character. It’s definitely a sipping beer to enjoy slowly; otherwise you’ll miss its nuances. Even though I like this Slugger, I still am a little more partial to the gentle complexity in prior renditions that used the Templeton rye whiskey barrels.