Louisville. Kentucky. Beer. Those are three words you typically don’t see all together. Kentucky is known for quite a different breed of alcohol, best summed up in two different words: Oak. Bourbon. See how quickly I hit on that trend at the higher end of scene right now? Oak barrel-aged brews are typically much earthier and complex, so despite a bevy of 22 oz. bombers on the shelves you really can’t throw these back at a tailgate…nor all by their lonesome. Given those thoughts as well as the abbreviated nature of the Louisville tailgate, I thought a much different approach was needed. With a large crowd at Camp Wahoo, BBQ straight off the grill, and only an hour before kickoff, what resulted was accidentally epic.
Tailgate Throwdown: Aged in Oak
Game: University of Louisville vs. UVa, September 13, 2014
Featured Beers: Blue Mountain Dark Hollow, Heritage King’s Mountain, Hardywood Bourbon Cru
# of Tasters: 11
Wait, 11 tasters? With Ben and Hamilton missing from the game, how did I come up with that many people? Well, when you advertise “free beer tasting!” at a tailgate, you tend to get volunteers.
Beer #1: Blue Mountain Dark Hollow Artisanal Ale
Profile: Dense Imperial Stout aged 100 days in charred oak barrels
Tasting Notes: “Burnt caramel,” “smoky chocolate,” “earthy undertones,” “coffee”
Overall: This really was a complex beer. Those used to experimental beers really enjoyed the blend of flavors, but the shockingly high 79 IBU and 10% ABV caused quite a few tasters to dump their remains into my cup (thanks!!) In an interesting twist, the girls all hated it and the guys liked it.
Crowd Score: 6.0
My Score: 8.0
Beer #2: Heritage Brewing King’s Mountain Scotch Ale
Tasting Notes: “butter,” “heavy head,” “apple…like a chardonnay?”
Overall: This was the hardest selection I had to make. Go ahead, try finding bottles of oak/bourbon aged stouts, browns, etc. in late summer. In the end I had to scrap “bourbon barrel-aged” for simply “oak aged” as the beer theme, but honestly I’m happy to get to include Heritage as they are going to make a big splash eventually. As for the King’s Mountain, I know they have in fact done a bourbon barrel cask version which might have fared better here. This was an incredibly rich beer, but the flavors didn’t quite fit.
Crowd Score: 6.0
My Score: 6.5
Beer #3: Hardywood Barrel Series Bourbon Cru Abbey Ale
Profile: Belgian Quadrupel…aka hand over your keys
Tasting Notes: “Holy crap!” “festive,” “piney,” “Christmas in a cup!”
Overall: Talk about a situational beer! Coming in at 10.2% but a shockingly low IBU, there’s quite a bit of flavor to be had here. While it could make for some very happy holidays, the oakiness really showed through across the entire palate. That wasn’t necessarily bad, but as with the King’s Mountain it felt like a little something was missing…
Crowd Score: 6.0
My Score: 6.0
Final Tho…INTERJECTION! During the Richmond Roundup we made a point to discuss the food. And here I’ve mentioned that we had BBQ available with some decent dark beers, so what were we waiting for?!
Winner, Best Standalone Beer: Blue Mountain Dark Hollow
Food Pairing: BBQ Pork
We had a special treat as a fellow tailgater brought some tasters from Man Cave Worldwide, a purveyor of craft meats. Wait, WHAT?! Apparently these guys from Minnesota (@ManCaveFoods) are like the tupperware partygoers for dudes. Alas to say, the mini brats did not last nearly long enough so we were (gladly) stuck with some BBQ pork a more intrepid Camp Wahoo grillmeister cooked up. So how did our entrants pair?
Dark Hollow: Really made the mesquite pop, as well as some of the other bark flavors picked up from the grill. However, the complexity of the beer masked quite a bit of the pork.
King’s Mountain: Very good complement to the caramelization of the pork fat. For you non-foodies, that’s when the sugars are rendered out and the fats are absorbed into cuts of meat with heavy marbling.
Bourbon Cru: So remember how it felt like something was missing when this beer was tried on its own? All that oakiness simply didn’t have any balance to it, which was why this probably paired so well with the pork. This beer truly enhanced every aspect of the BBQ experience which was surprising since everyone involved thought of this as more of a wintry seasonal.
Winner, Best Food Pairing: Hardywood Bourbon Cru
Final Thoughts: It’s safe to say that this iteration of the Tailgate Throwdown was a massive hit. The idea to involve more of the crowd not only upped the social aspect of the tailgate, but led to more ideas for our future competitions. As you’ll see in the next throwdown (I swear, I’ll have the review up BEFORE the next tailgate…) we can start thinking more about production values and the like. Having a unified beer + food theme helped immensely, as well. Being able to declare a best pairing also makes this a bit more of a fun concept as our fellow revelers get to show off their creations (or, ahem, purchases) as well. But we can’t have two winners, can we? While the Hardywood Bourbon Cru made one heck of a comeback in the new food pairing category, the overall excellence of the Dark Hollow is just too much to ignore. Tailgate potential matters, but sometimes the desire to go out and pick up more of a beer matters just a little bit more.
Overall Winner: Blue Mountain Dark Hollow