July 29, 2014
Jan 23, 2014
11:44 AM

First Draught: a bourbon barrel-aged beer from Great Lakes Brewery

Beard of Zeus (Image: David Ort)

Is there any point on the great scatter-graph of drinking that's more trendy than a high-alcohol craft beer that's been aged in bourbon barrels? Probably not, but some of it, like Beard of Zeus—the latest release from Great Lakes Brewery—is definitely worth trying.

The base recipe comes from Kyle Teichart, who won the right to brew it at Great Lakes through a home brew competition during Toronto Beer Week. After fermentation, the barley wine was aged for just shy of a year in Four Roses bourbon barrels.

In the recommended tulip glass, it pours a dark mahogany with auburn hues at the edges, under a coffee-with-cream head.

Beard of Zeus gives off plenty of the signature bourbon aroma that features vanilla, sweet corn, and alcohol heat. The barley wine aspect contributes dried fruit and roasted notes. The flavour starts with vanilla-laden oak, but finishes towards a hint of the dark and roasted duo of chocolate and coffee, with a backing of burnt sugar and toffee. At 13% ABV, it's not surprising that there is a noticeable sharpness throughout. 

Great Lakes was careful to label each bottle with a note that says "best enjoyed after Dec 31, 2014" on the expectation that age will smooth down many of the sharp edges. After positive experiences with the brewery's 25th anniversary releases, I have faith that Beard of Zeus will age well and have marked mine to be opened between 2017 and 2018. The supply sent to the LCBO has been limited to about 1,000 bottles, so don't sleep on this one.

Aged British cheese is the traditional food partner for barley wine, but given how much of a role the bourbon plays here, I think it would go well with a smoked brisket sandwich.

Great Lakes Brewery's Beard of Zeus, $9.95 for a 650 ml bottle, LCBO # 374710

In addition to covering beer, new restaurants and food trucks for Post City, David Ort writes about food and drink for several Toronto publications including his own site, Food With Legs. He is the author of the Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook; now in stores and available for ordering online. For more of his thoughts on food, beer and life in general, follow him on Twitter or get in touch at info@foodwithlegs.com.