Earlier this year in February I wrote about a special release from Oakshire Brewing during their Zwickelmania event. Among the various barrel aged beers that were pouring that weekend at Oakshire, Hellshire III stood out as a favorite. Now, four months later, Hellshire III is tasting better than ever. Fresh from taking home a Gold medal at the North American Beer Awards on May 31st and previously winning gold In November 2012 at the Festival of Wood & Barrel-Aged Beer, this beer is worth writing home about.
Hellshire III is third in the Hellshire series from brewmaster Matt Van Wyk at Oakshire Brewing. The Hellshire series is part of Oakshire’s commitment to unique and specialty beers, and has helped to put the once small but ever-growing brewery on the map. Hellshire I was released in May 2011 and is a bourbon barrel aged barleywine. It spent 10 months in Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels. Although hot at first, this specialty beer has now aged as is quite delicious, although hard to find. Hellshire II, a bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with Coffee released in November 2011, drew criticism as it contained unintended lactobacillus (a good beer for a sour- but not what the brewery intended). Luckily the brewery admitted the mistake (one that is incredibly easy to make while aging beers) and now with this newest release the Hellshire series is back on top. Hellshire III is a Foreign Style Stout aged for nearly a year in bourbon barrels from Heaven Hills Distillery in Kentucky.
On Tuesday, Oakshire re-released another set of Hellshire bottles and offered the beer on tap. The beer pours with a rich dark color and a perfect inch head. I actually tried to stick my nose in so deep that I barely touched the beer and had to wipe away a drop on the tip of my nose. The aroma is full and sweet with notes of caramel and delicious oaky bourbon. The mouthfeel is perfect, any hotness that was present earlier is now balanced with the coffee and malts. There is a nice warm flavor that is entirely drinkable. The beer is sweet upfront with notes of vanilla but is followed by a perfect mellow bourbon finish with rich chocolate flavors that linger long after your last sip.
Hellshire III is the perfect use of the foreign style stout (they are generally sweeter than other stouts) and the Heaven Hill bourbon taste. Heaven Hill, if you haven’t heard of the popular Kentucky distillery, it’s known for their bourbon. Aging the beer in bourbon barrels allows the beer to take on the oak and bourbon flavors, giving it a warmly unique taste and aroma. It’s not unlike how quality wine aged in oak barrels begins to taste more full and complex.
Barrel Aged beers lend themselves well to stouts and barley wines, and have become quite popular in the craft beer industry over the last decade. But if you’re worried about opening a bottle to yourself, the beer is a low 8.6% ABV. Okay, maybe that’s not a “low” ABV, but for barrel aged beers that’s pretty good considering many of them hit the 12% range.
This beer was entirely deserving of the North American Beer Awards gold medal in the barrel aged beer category. It’s a hard thing win a medal. Runners up in the barrel aged category were Gin Eddy from Kettlehouse Brewing Co. who won silver and Highlands Oaked Scotch from Idaho Brewing Company who won bronze. Judges taste each beer for aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and their overall impression. In my book, Hellshire III passes on all, and will definitely be one I add to my collection. However, if you don’t have the patience to wait for a beer to age, Hellshire III is perfect to drink today.