Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Full Sail 2010 Top Sail Release

Every February something special happens at the Full Sail Pilsner Room at the Portland harbor. In even-numbered years Full Sail rolls out a barrel-aged version of their Top Sail Imperial Porter; the odd-numbered years see the release of barrel-aged Black Gold Imperial Stout (though for some reason 2006 also got the stout and not the porter). Last night I sat at a table full of beer bloggers -- Charles (in the photo), Derek, Ezra and SNOB poster boy Ritch -- to sample this year's batch.

Usually the release party includes a vertical tasting of previous vintages. Brewmaster John Harris said that they've drained so many of those earlier kegs, that there wasn't enough old beer available for this year's release. So they hit on a wonderful idea: instead of a vertical tasting, have a horizontal tasting of single-barrel versions of this year's Top Sail, alongside the final product, which is a blend of beer aged in Maker's Mark, Stranahan's, and Four Roses barrels. Most of us at the table agreed that the blend was the best of all, capturing just the right balance between beer, wood, and bourbon. But it was wonderful to try the individual constituents side-by-side. Great idea.

I'm not a bourbon expert at all, and it would have been nice to have some experience of the three whiskeys to orient myself.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to note the differences in the individual barrels.  The Maker's Mark version seemed to contribute the strongest vanilla and alcohol flavors to the chocolatey porter.  That barrel seemed to most closely resemble the final blend.  The vanilla notes were much more subdued in the other two barrel; I'm guessing that the Stranahan's version was closest to the original brew, and the Four Roses barrel added what to me was a dry and dusty character -- Derek described it as "spicy".  The blend is a delicious strong porter with a drinkable non-syrupy consistency; it has a satisfying chocolate malt flavor, with bourbon and vanilla highlights added by the barrels.  Everything is very well-balanced -- you get a taste of the bourbon, but it doesn't overwhelm as it does in some bourbon porters and stouts.

Even though there were no kegs of older vintages available, John opened one bottle each of the 2004 and 2008 barrel-aged Top Sail.  He passed small glasses of each around our table.  The 2004 was still drinkable but is starting to lose its way (not surprising after 6 years).  The 2008 was lovely, quite similar to this year's, but a little mellower.  It's interesting, when I wrote up the 2008 Top Sail release, I found the 2008 a little disappointing compared to the 2004 -- age seemed to help out.  But last night I decided the 2010 is plenty good enough to drink right now, easily a match for the cellared-two-years 2008.  Who knows, maybe a year or two in the cellar will make it even more brilliant, but you won't be disappointed if you crack open a fresh bottle of it.

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