With so many whiskies being released right now that have been aged in any type of barrel that has previously housed some other form of alcoholic beverage, it’s a wonder as to what happens to a whisky barrel after its paid its dues. This post is part of a mini series that we are putting together which explores the influence of a whisky barrel in its later life on different kinds of beer, courtesy of the Barrel Series of beers released by the Glen Affric brewery. For this post, we are looking at a pale ale. Or, as per Glen Affric’s denomination, an extra pale ale.
Glen Affric – Highland Suntan (Extra Pale Ale) 4.9% ABV
One of the Birkenhead brewers’ core range beers is the Highland Suntan. The name of this extra pale ale is a nod to the brewing family’s Scottish heritage (so they can get away with it!). I love the comedy name too as, when you pour it, you can really see that it is a very pale ale. What it lacks in colour though it makes up for in flavour and pure drinkability. It has a really light and zesty nose to it and a similarly light body but it packs in a lot of citrus and tropical fruit flavours. Think juicy sweetness and zest courtesy of lemons, pineapples, peaches, melon and, with that little tart bitter finish to it, a big whack of grapefruit. The packaging doesn’t say which hops have been used in the brewing process but you can bet it’s the craft ale biggies. It’s not a total hop assault all the way like an IPA would be though – it’s got a sweet, gentle and smooth finish to it, albeit those flavours are all over quite quickly and just invite the next swig.
Glen Affric – Speyside Barrel-Aged Highland Suntan (Extra Pale Ale) 5.4% ABV
At 5.4%, it’s not clear why there is the extra ABV in the Speyside Barrel Aged Highland Suntan (SBA) but it doesn’t feel any boozier than the regular Highland Suntan (HS) and it works. It definitely looks like it’s been in a barrel too as it’s no longer extra pale in colour but a good dark orange / umber. Whilst it is now orange in colour though, the orange fruit side of things appear to have been muted by the barrel ageing. The regular HS’ burst of flavours has been quelled in favour of a more subtle set of fruits complemented with a new silky vanilla sensation that the regular HS did not offer. That goes for both the smell and the taste too. The tropical fruits are still there, but the grapefruit tang has been substituted for peaches and cream.
When you go back to the regular HS you can taste just how immediate those fruity/citrus flavours are as they just zap and zing the tastebuds. In the SBA it’s an exercise in taking things slowly. Interestingly, compared to Part 1 with the stouts, there doesn’t seem to be an extra oak/wood flavour imparted by the Speyside whisky barrel, but instead it provides more of a background bitterness that complements the hops. I talked about a sweet, gentle and smooth finish on the regular HS, but this is just all about the smoothness. Still enough (gentle) hop signposted from its origins but stretched out over the finish.
Over a barrel: so what are the findings here then? The barrel ageing has turned the dial down on the volume of citrus and tropical fruit flavours, but has bolstered the flavours and textures with a silky, creamy body that pads it out and makes for a more considered sipper. It also seems to have really added some sustain to those fruity flavours and rounded out the whole drinking experience.
So which beer would I choose? Well, if it was big drinking session then I’d have to pick the regular HS as a the lighter, zestiest option, but if just having the one and savouring a drink, then definitely the SBA.
Full disclosure: I was gifted a can of each of Barrel Series beers by Craig McCormick of Glen Affric himself following a visit to the Taproom, but I am under no obligation to do anything other than sample their wares. I’ve bought the regular versions of the beers myself and this post is intended as an honest, independent and fair review of the beers and a personal insight into the effects of ex-whisky barrel-ageing on beers – it is not intended as a promotion, and, as always, please drink responsibly.