Perhaps I have a bit of location bias, but it seems like the Midwest has a knack for turning out unhyped, readily-available barrel-aged beers at a good clip. Sure we have plenty of whales, but it seems like there are just as many widely-distributed barrel-aged beers where the barrel-aging is just part of the process and not a marketing gimmick designed to build hype. Dragon’s Milk. Backwoods Bastard. Barrel Chested Barleywine. These beers hardly even draw attention to the fact they are all matured in whiskey barrels and they’re all extremely easy to find if you live within the distribution footprint. Let’s do a deep dive into one of them, Upland Barrel Chested Barleywine.
Determining from first glance if Barrel Chested got the barrel treatment is difficult. The name hints at it, but it could also reference a big, burly barleywine as hefty as the strongman on the label. A little research reveals that Barrel Chested takes a nap in previously used Willett barrels.
That fact is immediately made known from the first sip, a layered affair of coconut macaroons, vanilla and bourbon. The barrel influence isn’t nearly as apparent on the nose, with a more standard barleywine melange of dried figs, rich caramel and sweet toffee. This is the type of balance and integration to be expected from a beer that treats the barrel as an ingredient and not just a marketing ploy. With only minimal effort, grab a few bottles and some Stilton, the classic barleywine partner, in practically the same stop and you’ll be off to a good night.