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The Beer Circle » Beer, Better From The Barrel?, Blend, Cabernet, English Barleywine, Heavy Seas Beer » Better From The Barrel: Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine

Better From The Barrel: Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine

First of all I would like to introduce a new column to The Beer Circle: Better From The Barrel! In this series of posts, our writers will taste a beer and barrel aged version of that same beer to determine which is better. You may ask, “wasn’t there a post on Flying Dog Gonzo and BA Gonzo before that did the same thing?” The answer is yes! and it is being retroactively added.

This post will focus on Heavy Seas Beer’s Below Decks Barleywine, from the Mutiny Fleet series. They release this English Barleywine once a year along with two different barrel aged variations: Bourbon and Carbernet. I love Heavy Seas and bourbon barrel aged beers, and have yet to try a Barleywine aged in wine barrels so let’s see how this turns out!

Below Decks Barleywine
Pours actually a lot like a can of pop would. Fizzy, with a bubbly white head atop a clear-ish brown pour. Not a lot of retention or lacing.
Sugary malts, molasses, plum, caramel, and perhaps some roast coming from the aroma as well. I'm surprised that I'm not getting a lot of booze.
Taste is sort of muted, sadly. Sugar and caramel malts take up the vast majority of my taste buds. Some dark fruits might be working their way in as well. Overall very sweet, and not a lot there.
Low in carbonation and medium in body with a slight creamy feel on the palate. I would say this is pretty drinkable for 10% ABV.
Luckily the price was $5 for the bottle, so I'd say pick it up and try it for yourself. It's tough to knock a Barleywine that costs this little.
This was pretty average overall. I'm excited to see what the barrel treatments did to improve it!

Beer Stats
Style: English Barleywine
Serving: Bottle
Size: 22oz
ABV: 10.00%
BA Score: 82
RB Score: 76
Bourbon Oak Aged Below Decks Barleywine
Clear, deep brown pour with a finger or so of white head. Minimal retention, the head does leave some lacing down the side of my Deschutes Snifter.
I'm getting mostly Barleywine on the aroma, but some hints of barrel treatment, such as vanilla and oak, are noted. Not a ton of bourbon to be honest, which I wish wasn't the case.
The taste is a big shift from the aroma as this seems to be far more focused on the barrel. Slight notes of bourbon, but again mostly oak and vanilla, mixed with plum and other dark fruits, molasses, and sugary caramel malts. Very, very sweet taste. A slight booziness is noted as well, although it seems to be coming more from the barrel end of the spectrum instead of from the beer itself.
Its medium body rests creamy on the palate. It's just too sweet for me, which takes away from the drinkability.
Still, for $7.50 a bottle you can't really go wrong here. Especially because Heavy Seas specifically recommends aging it and it won't cost you an arm and a leg to do so.
This was tasty, but 22oz was too much for one person. I would probably pass on it again, but we'll see how it does with age.

Beer Stats
Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged English Barleywine
Serving: Bottle
Size: 22oz
ABV: 10.00%
BA Score: 88
RB Score: 95
Cabernet Barrel Aged Below Decks Barleywine
The liquid escapes out of the bottle clear brown and rests a deep brown to black color with really only a teasing amount of head. The head rises up late in the game and disappears before you can really appreciate it, leaving behind no lacing.
The aroma is really nicely blended, but borders on too boozy. Deliciously sweet malts, sugar, and dark fruits. Certainly some hints from the barrel: oak, and maybe a light grape character. This was definitely the best smelling of the three beers.
The taste seems to be a strange mix of not enough barleywine and not enough from the barrel. Decreased sugary malts from the non-barrel aged version and some dark fruits mix with oak and far too much booze. Perhaps the wine barrels just didn't impart as much flavors as the bourbon barrel did, or they were just to subtle and destroyed by the bigger Barleywine tastes. There's just not enough there, much like the non-barrel aged offering.
A bit thin on the body, and low on the carbonation. The finish was dry and boozy. Something about every single one of these three hurt the drinkability.
I said it before and I'll say it again: these are all priced very well. This was also $7.50 a bottle, and I picked up another to age.
For all is faults I actually didn't mind this as I found the booze and wine characteristics to be pretty interesting. I don't think it's a great beer, but I do like it.

Beer Stats
Style: Cabernet Barrel Aged English Barleywine
Serving: Bottle
Size: 22oz
ABV: 10.00%
BA Score: 87
RB Score: 95

After I looked back at my reviews of all three different Below Decks variations, I was pretty shocked to see how closely I rated them. As a group, I’d call them just above average–not great–beers. I will go out on a limb and say that the barrel treatments definitely enhanced the base beer in this case, albeit not by much. I didn’t think Below Decks was all that great, so the added intricacies the barrels imparted on it gave me something else to focus on. In terms of which barrel was better I will reluctantly choose Bourbon, but I have to say it wasn’t my favorite bourbon barrel aged beer–or Barleywine for that matter. Hopefully in a year when I do a combined “Better From The Barrel” and “Cellar” post we’ll see some improvement. I am a bit worried about how thin the bodies were for them to age well, but I guess we will see.

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Written by Russ Beck

Russ can trace his beginnings in craft beer to sitting in Zeno’s Pub in State College drinking various craft beer options from across Pennsylvania. Since then, he has never faltered in finding new brews, whether they’re rare, delicious, or hopefully both. Russ will be writing on a large variety of subjects, including but not limited to: reviews, homebrewing, and how to take labels off of beer bottles. He’ll drink just about anything, but prefers a nice Stout, IPA, or Weizenbock. Find Russ Beck on Google Plus

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