Blue Mountain Barrel House - Dark Hollow
Serving Temperature:50–57° F
Suggested Glassware:Snifter, Small Nonic, or Tulip Glass
The Blue Mountain Barrel House Series is a delicious range of specialty releases made in the Blue Mountain production brewery known as The Barrel House. Every one of these we’ve tried has been an exceptional experience, and we’re excited to offer the brewery’s incredible Dark Hollow to our Rare Beer Club members this month. This lush imperial stout has been aged in charred American oak bourbon barrels, and both the barrel character and that main imperial stout are exceptionally handled. (In fact… their Barrel House was specifically built around the production needs of Dark Hollow.) This one’s usually just available in Virginia.
Blue Mountain’s Dark Hollow pours a super dark, near pitch-black color with just a little bit of light getting through near the edges. Modest dark-tan head that leaves a thin perimeter of bubbles behind. This barrel-aged imperial stout shows decadently generous aromatics from the initial pour, and this only increases as the beer’s allowed to warm up in our glasses. The bourbon barrel’s presence is handled so well throughout, with rich char and vanilla and spirit notes showcased throughout the full expression of this beer. And the base imperial stout is beautifully done, offering up exceptional amounts of dark/milk chocolate notes, deep roast, vibrant licorice, and some malt-driven nuttiness bringing everything smoothly together. This presents as a massive, carefully barrel-aged imperial stout right from the very start.
Full-bodied imperial stout, with a moderate base of carbonation keeping things easygoing. There’s a tremendous amount of core maltiness in this beer that continues to expand as this warms—but always staying smooth and very pleasant to drink. Rich, magnificent specialty malts emphasize dark chocolates and cocoa, caramel and roasted coffee, as well as darker fruit elements approximating currants and blackberries. The barrel character, following the aromatic expression, is just so well handled here: big notes of bourbon, well-developed char and tannins providing some fundamental structure, and smoothing elements of vanilla and toastiness throughout. You can absolutely see Taylor Smack’s barrel-aged brewing pedigree in this beer: this is barrel-aged imperial stout at its finest, with both an impressively detailed base beer and just wonderful flavors and tannin extraction from the time spent in bourbon barrels, showcasing both. We love Dark Hollow from Blue Mountain, and this expectional BA imperial stout stops on a dime: with a finish highlighting cocoa, milk chocolate, currants, and bourbon, but never overstepping in sweetness or warmth. Brilliantly executed beer.
The bottle gives a best-by date of a few years out, but that seems to err on the conservative side. The potent ABV and focused execution of this beer suggests it’s worthy of some cellar time, and should support further caramelization and extra sherry notes rather nicely. As far as food pairings, look to your favorite go-tos for big, barrel-aged imperial stouts: grilled steak or lamb kebabs, or maduro-wrapper cigars; chocolate- or vanilla-based desserts; or savor this one all by itself as a nightcap with friends.
Blue Mountain Brewery in Virginia has made quite a name for itself within Virginia’s craft beer scene, including bringing home a total of eight Great American Beer Festival medals since opening up in 2007. Many breweries would (and do) take the obvious route from there in terms of expansion: invest in a production facility, focus on pumping out as much of their best-selling offerings as possible, and settle in for the long haul. With the opening in 2011 of their second location, Blue Mountain Barrel House, Master Brewer Taylor Smack and fellow partners gave a pretty clear indication that they are decidedly not like most breweries.
It’s a great pleasure to introduce Taylor Smack and the Blue Mountain Barrel House to our Rare Beer Club members. Taylor’s brewing experience extends back long before Blue Mountain’s first location opened 15 years ago. As an enthusiast of world-class beer, you’ve likely heard of Bourbon County Stout from Chicago’s Goose Island—one of the very first bourbon-barrel-aged beers in the U.S. It’s also been considered one of the finest examples out there, even long after everyone’s jumped on the barrel-aging bandwagon. For over a year, Taylor was the only person in the world producing that stout, after he’d taken over brewing responsibilities at Goose Island during 2000 and 2001. That one-of-a-kind brewing experience has certainly informed the direction Blue Mountain has been taking with their Barrel House projects, and suffice to say that he’s got some other tricks up his sleeve.
Blue Mountain Barrel House, overlooking 4,000-foot mountains along the border of the George Washington National Forest, incorporates a wide range of lessons learned over the years. The “rural brewpub” model at Blue Mountains’ original location encouraged them to go off-grid with their water, drilling a well to ensure more consistent and pristine supplies than they’d likely get from conventional city water. Hundreds of barrels currently occupy the Barrel House—like Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and (Virginia to the core) Elijah Craig—allowing them to pursue a wide variety of experimental beers and blending programs.
And then there are the cows. One of the most unique elements of their new Barrel House results from the sinking feeling that Taylor used to get at their brewpub whenever he emptied out the spent grain left over from making Dark Hollow, which (even after giving up much of its character to that hefty imperial stout) was still full of useable sugars. While this is an (ordinarily) inevitable part of the mashing process, it felt like a major waste. “I’m sure the cows loved it,” Taylor jokes, referencing their habit of using the spent grain as farm feed.
Again, most breweries would do the standard thing: stick to the norm. Instead Taylor and his brewery team decided to instead create the only dedicated, advanced parti-gyle brewing setup in the country (at the time, at least), allowing them to not only better extract more of that sugary goodness from a given mash, but to make two beers at once.
“Parti-gyle?” you might ask, “Isn’t that that thing in which you make a beer, and then you make another smaller beer with whatever’s left over?” Yes. And no. Parti-gyle brewing is most typically seen as a way of making “small beers” in the U.S., which honestly tend to taste like the runner-up beers they inherently are: thin, frequently astringent, with only a handful of solid exceptions. At Blue Mountain Barrel House, they’ve put together a state-of-the-art custom brewhouse (with the folks at Premier Stainless in southern California) that, instead of collecting in two completely separated stages, allows them to constantly shift their sugar extraction between two kettles: greatly decreasing the amount of waste, while allowing them to artfully blend the flow into not one, but two exceptional beers. (Sorry, cows!)
We’re pleased to offer RBC members our favorite release so far from Blue Mountain Barrel House: the brewery’s esteemed Dark Hollow, a delicious, bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout that otherwise only sees distribution in Virginia. You can keep up with Taylor and company at bluemountainbrewery.com as they continue to explore the bounds of world-class brewing.
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