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The Beer Circle » Barrel Aged, Beer, Bourbon, Church Brew Works, Old Ale, Reviews » Church Brew Works’ Heini’s Hooch

Church Brew Works’ Heini’s Hooch

At this year’s Great American Beer Fest featured one of Pittsburgh’s most unique (in terms of architecture, at least) breweries, Church Brew Works. While the Church has been a Pittsburgh staple for years, it only recently began its atmospheric rise to prominence and showed that talent this year, winning four medals and Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year honors this year in Colorado. Included in these accolades were bronze medals for Celestial Gold and Pipe Organ Pale Ale, a silver medal for Pious Monk Dunkel, and a gold medal for Heini’s Hooch within the Old / Strong Ale style.

While the other beers are offered year-round both on-tap and in bottles, Heini’s Hooch is a limited release and only available at the brewpub. Although I’ve had many a Church Brew Works beer, I’ve yet to have one that they threw in bourbon barrels, so after the announcement of the winners, I immediately made a trip to try some of the Hooch. Needless to say I was impressed, since I left that same night with a growler.

Church Brew Work’s Heini’s Hooch
Pours a ruddy ruby color that looks nearly black at times, except when held up to light, at which point it shifts to an almost amber-esque shade. A creme-colored head springs up after looking a bit still at first, but leaves thick, soapy bubbles around the edges that are constantly fed by a steady stream of carbonation. There is a surprising amount of lace for a barrel-aged beer, as a frothy film coats the glass from top to bottom.
The nose is complex and rich, combining the sweetness of the malts with the decadence of the barrel. There is a bold caramel aroma that lasts from start to finish, but is complemented by sugary sweet fruits, oak, vanilla, and of course, bourbon. The fruits give an alcohol-soaked quality to the nose, like drunken raisins and cherries, and is a great match with the bourbon notes. A twist of milk chocolate comes from the malt that naturally pairs well with the vanilla from the barrel.
The first adjective I think of when I take the initial sip is... big. Big sweetness, big vanilla, big barrel, big alcohol. The raisins are even more apparent and even border near something like a port wine. Even the chocolate and oak are ramped up and impart a dusty, cocoa flavor. From about the midpoint on in the sip, it's all bourbon. Sweet, smooth vanilla, toasted oak, a pinch of coconut, and bourbon, bourbon, bourbon. This beer definitely needs time to aerate and open up since it is pretty damn hot at first. Once the initial astringency recedes, however, this is one nice sipper.
Mouthfeel is medium-bodied with decent carbonation. Despite the active head, there isn't a whole lot of carbonation here, which is to be expected for this style of beer. It also has a full mouthfeel without being overly chewy. A long-lasting alcohol sweetness lingers on the palate well after drinking.
Drinkability is pretty high. Although this is a beer best served by slow sips, each one is bursting with flavor. At first, the alcohol heat is a limiter as to how quickly one can drink, but as I go on, I find myself going back more and more quickly to experience the next nuance. Easily the best beer I've had from Church Brew Works, hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
As this is a tap-only offering, the prices vary widely based happy hour, growlers, or normal pints. I've had this in all three forms and can't say I've regretted purchasing it. I've also gone through two growlers (fairly priced at around $16 each) that I've brought to various events. For a high abv, bourbon-aged old ale, Church Brew Works doesn't gouge at all.
Overall, Church Brew Works rightly deserves a medal for this fine brew as it definitely blew all my expectations out of the water. I'm very happy to see that they are ramping up the creative juices, as they have the talent to make some great beer. I just hope they continue to churn out the unique beers because I know that I and others will continue to fill the hall!

Beer Stats
Style: Old Ale
Serving: Growler
Size: 64oz
ABV: 10.50%
BA Score: N/A
RB Score: N/A

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Written by Greg Bruce

While studying at Penn State, Greg learned that beer could serve a much better purpose than a means to an end for a good party. Delicately brewed Belgians acted as a stark contrast to the almost watery beer that had been so popular and began the journey towards craft beer. From that launch point he always seems to land on something new. Greg approaches each beer, whether it is an aggressively-hopped West Coast IPA or an English bitter (and everything between), with a clear mind and open opinion, ready to analyze, compare, and ultimately, enjoy. While always fond of stouts (especially barrel-aged) and IPAs, Greg is slowly but surely drifting towards various soured beers. Find Greg Bruce on Google Plus

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