Big Island Imperial Pale Ale- 2010 Bourbon Barrel Aged

Before I get started with the review I want to talk about the term imperial.  You will find the term imperial used in many styles and what this really means is that one or more of the beers attributes is out of the accepted style guidelines. More bitterness and/or more malt and/or more alcohol, do you get the picture?  The most common beer styles that use this label are IPA’s and Stouts.

Imperial IPA’s(also known as Double IPA or DIPA) are probably my favorite beers.  These are BIG beers.  They have BIG hop aromas and high IBU’s. Hops are used to balance the BIG malt base in these beers.  The malt base in these beers also produces a lot of sugar that is then converted to alcohol and so these beers have BIG ABV’s.  Any one of these BIG’s can be too much on their own so it is up to the brewmaster to find that sweet spot and create one BIG balanced beer.

Big Island Imperial Pale Ale just wasn’t big enough for the brewers at Island Brewing Co.  No siree.  They decided they should take one of their biggest beers and make it a little more complex by aging it in bourbon barrels.  As a point of clarification, sometimes there is a small amount of bourbon left over in the barrels that can affect the flavor of the beer.  However, the bourbon flavor and aroma usually comes from the beer’s direct contact with the bourbon barrel’s “marinated” wood.  The flavor and aroma imparted in the beer are influenced by the age of the barrels (how many batches have been conditioned in it) and the amount of time the beer spends in the barrels.  At any rate my reaction to this beer is something that can best be explained in this quote from the movie THE CHRISTMAS STORY when Ralphie is helping his dad change a tire.  Only I said this when I took my first drink…

Oooh fuuudge!”
Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word!

This is one big and tasty beer but let me start with the nitty gritty.  This is a small special release (I had bottle 236 of 275) aged in bourbon barrels which takes up a lot of space and energy for conditioning and thus demands a premium price. A 650ml bottle or “bomber” costs $25. Don’t let that price scare you away after all you aren’t going to be drinking this beer every day after work.  However, this is a great special occasion beer. Also this beer is so big (taste and alcohol) that you will want to share it with one or two friends.  Please don’t sit down and drink this all by yourself, it is NOT a Bud Light and you are not at a kegger.

True to Imperial IPA’s it poured deep dark amber with a small lacy head (alcohol can inhibit the proteins needed to form a thick dense head) and the aroma screamed “I’ve been aged in a bourbon barrel”.  There might have been hops there but they were certainly overpowered by the bourbon.  The beer was malty and smooth with a warming alcohol sensation.  The malt was quickly replaced by a hop bitterness that was then quickly replaced by bourbon.  By the end of my glass (I shared the bomber with one other person) the beer started to get a little over the top.  That is an incredible statement for me and those that know me can attest to that but it is true.  I think if I had shared it with one other person and enjoyed an 8-10 oz pour instead of 12-14 oz pour I wouldn’t have hit the wall with this beer.  My suggestion for you is to enjoy this BIG beer in small pours and enjoy it you will.

  1. Curtis, You didn’t mention that Island Brewing’s Burbon Barrel Big Island was awarded First Place in the Wood or Barrel Aged Strong Beer catigory with 77 enteries at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.

    • Paul,

      That is fantastic! Thanks for adding that to the review. Although, I wasn’t so worried about the accolades I just wanted to taste a bourbon barre DIPA. That is one tasty beer!

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