Reviewed: Revolution Brewing V.S.O.J. 2018
Product Description: A celebration of malt, oak, and patience, Very Special Old [Straight] Jacket is a cuvée of English Barleywines each aged between two and three years in our favorite bourbon barrels. Lusciously sweet and colossally complex, V.S.O.J. is equal parts refinement and excess. The barrel-aged Barleywine clocks in at 13.8% ABV.
Revolution Brewing – Revolution Deep Woods Series V.S.O.J. Barleywine Ale Aged in Bourbon Barrels 2018 – 12oz can served in stemless snifter – 13.8% ABV
My Top 3 Descriptors: Milk Chocolate, Dark Rum, Godiva Liqueur
Full disclosure: this is not my style of beer. If you’ve read my article on how I review beer, I’ve listed out some style preferences. Huge American Strong Ales are missing from that list. However, my wife loves this style, especially bourbon barrel aged strong ales, so I asked for her input on this beer as well.
From a 12oz can that came in a paper carton 4-pack, VSOJ comes out clear cola-colored with matching soda-like foam that dissipates rapidly. In less than 30 seconds, a medium-sized dark brown head fizzes away to nothing – not even a protective layer. You’re left with a totally flat liquid that looks like Godiva liqueur. (For bourbon barrel-aged strong ales, I typically dislike these chilled, so I let the can warm up a little bit before trying – closer to 55-60° F.) I haven’t had the regular Straight Jacket barleywine from Revolution, but this is definitely on the very dark end of the spectrum for barleywine, a beer that is usually a deep amber to maroon color. In the glass, this beer looks almost completely black.
The nose is a powerful, decadent mix of bourbon barrel and milk chocolate – similar to many Firestone Walker Anniversary series strong ales from past years, which mix several beers together including barleywine, DIPA, and imperial stout. Tobacco and vanilla come through in the aroma over time as does just a hint of savory soy sauce and sweet hoisin sauce. It’s complex with a mix of sweet and savory, but it doesn’t strike me necessarily as a barleywine. In this way, it’s tough for me to believe this beer is simply a blend of barleywines as the chocolate character is something usually from imperial stouts.
This is definitely a sipping beer, and with each sip, you’re greeted with vanilla, toasted marshmallow, milk chocolate, and dark rum; all of which layer sugar atop sugar. However, the chocolate flavor from an obvious roasted malt addition is perhaps the most unique one, as this is precisely the flavor that makes this beer both balanced and delicious. Even though bitterness on this monster strong ale is far too low, this small amount of roasted malt is its saving grace. If anything, the high sugar content is balanced by high alcohol itself – pushing 14% – which helps thin the body out and keep it from being too cloying and sticky. There’s even some tart black cherry that plays a nice role of adding some complexity to the mouthfeel. The end result is that VSOJ tastes like a mixed drink that’s 50% imperial stout, 25% bourbon, 20% barleywine, and 5% black cherry cordial. Those typical barleywine flavors of dark fruits like raisins, dates, and prunes; along with huge toffee and brown sugar – they aren’t the centerpiece here like I expected. But that’s fine because the flavor combination you get instead is incredible.
VSOJ is delicious – perfect even – and nails the bourbon barrel aged American strong ale without a doubt. With that said, I would make a case that VSOJ isn’t your typical barleywine. It drinks way closer to a barleywine/imperial stout hybrid or what sometimes is called black barleywine. It’s atypical and fixes one of the biggest problems that barelywines suffer from: an attempt to make a high-alcohol brew with nothing to balance. Sugar and alcohol are the two main components, and they don’t do well alone for my tastes. Add in the roastiness and it’s just enough to move this beer away from average to delicious masterpiece. If you love Firestone Walker’s barrel-aged cuvees, this beer is right up your alley. And to find it in 12oz cans in a paper carton is nothing short of miraculous.
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