1/2/19: Saugatuck Brewing Company's 2018 Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Blueberry Maple Stout

4:39 PM

I survived the transition from 2018 to 2019 and, if you're reading this, so did you. Congratulations! Both of us deserve some major props for that. I have no idea what the new year has in store for me, but I do know where I'd like to take John Likes Beer in 2019--I'll do a full "state of the union" type post about it soon.


Today, though, I have something else going on: Tucking into Saugatuck Brewing Company's barrel-aged variant of one of my favorite beers. Read on as I crack open a bottle Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Blueberry Maple Stout.

Saugatuck Brewing Company (SBC henceforth) has seen quite a bit of growth since it started crafting beer back in 2005. The company, based in Saugatuck, MI, originally had a 3.5 barrel setup. Three years later, SBC moved to a larger facility and upgraded to a 10 barrel system for five years before, finally, making the switch to a 45 barrel system. The company's beers are consistently some of the best I can get from that state up north, most of which can be found on some of their taproom's 31 taps. SBC has a killer barrel program, to boot. Oh, and that original 3.5 barrel brewing system still gets a fair amount of use as the cornerstone of the company's Brew on Premise program.

Like I said, the standard Blueberry Maple Stout is one of my favorite beers. The blueberry and the maple come through perfectly in each bottle. It's BBA Imperial cousin keeps that same base beer at its core. SBC simply took it, kicked the ABV up to 9.5%, and let it rest in bourbon barrels for 10 months. The result, a limited release each year, should be something pretty special.

The nose is all blueberry and maple and oak--there's no actual bourbon or general booziness to be found here. It brings to mind syrup-covered campfire pancakes. This is the best aroma I've found in a beer on this blog. Aside from the blog, I tried the 2017 BBA Imperial Blueberry Maple (or maybe it's the '16 I'm thinking of--they had both) at the 2018 Barrel Aged Bootleg Bash, which  had a little something extra in its aroma. I'm hoping that 2018 will develop that something as my remaining bottles of it age. For now, though, this smells like it would be an exceptional early morning summer beer. Or, you know, an equally exceptional tepid winter evening (like what Cincinnati is currently experiencing) beer. Purrl, with her discerning tastes, likes my bottle nearly as much me; she gave it fourteen whiffs when I offered it to her.


This barrel-aged, imperial variant of Blueberry Maple tastes like a more cohesive, subdued version of its base beer. By that, I mean that the flavors a less punchy, if that makes sense. Instead of taking a swig and getting walloped in turn by distinct maple and blueberry flavors, I get a more blended affair here. Yes, both the blueberry and the maple are still present, and there's also the oak from the nose and just a touch of bourbon and vanilla, but it's all smooth and each element plays off of the others. Those months in the barrels really did the trick. I'll also note that there's a bit of warmth in the finish, but it's damn far from a boozy burn. It's a stunning effort and I'm amazed at how SBC found a way to improve the flavor of an already top-tier stout.

BBA Imperial Blueberry Maple is incredibly full-bodied. It almost, almost, has a syrupy quality akin to a barleywine, it's just not quite as thick. The carbonation is light--the stout has a bit of bite, but not a lot.

I spent two full summers in Athens, OH before moving onto the next chapter in my life: one summer immediately before grad school and one while I finished it up. During that second summer, I ran damn near every day. I'd wake up at eight or nine o'clock every morning, feed Purrl and Háma, get the coffee started for Michelle, pull on my shoes, and take off.

Morning though those runs were, the heat was still oppressive. I'd leave my apartment on the city's west side and climb the Appalachian foothill that ran Athens' length, my elevation rising with the sun. I'd run along the hill's crest and down into the city's east side. I'd thread a handful of neighborhoods before returning the way I'd come for breakfast and some coffee for myself. Don't ask my why, but those hot, morning runs are what I'm thinking of as I sit here, drinking SBC's imperial version of a breakfast stout.

Saugatuck's Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Blueberry Maple Stout holds up to all the hype I generated for it. It takes everything I love about the original stout wraps it in a bolstered, bourbon barrel-aged ABV. I'm giving this bottle a 10/10--it really is something special. If you're in proximity to SBC, keep your eyes peeled for the 2019 release; this is a beer you can't afford to sleep on.

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