I remember trying Founders' Backwoods Bastard when it was fresh and being blown away at the intense bourbon flavors in this beer. It was almost too much! For that reason, I aged a few of them to see how that booziness would mellow out after a year or two. This bottle is part of that experiment and is a Backwoods Bastard brewed in 2011. Shall we see how things have progressed? Let's pour!
Time does not seem to have settled this brew down one bit! The bourbon aroma and strong warmth are immediately and intensely present and not far behind it is a rich, raw sugar that almost comes across "mapley" at first. The oak is easily detectable behind these two strong aromas and as the beer opens up a dark vanilla is added to the mix. It's a great flavor and blends excellently with the earlier sugar/molasses note. Eventually it all but surpasses the sugar notes, and soon the dark roast of the malt can be faintly discerned.
This beer is much darker than I anticipated! It looks black in color, but when held to light reveals lots of nut and coffee browns and even a magenta shade or two. The head is tan in color and creamy in appearance. Were it not for the smaller amount, it would not look out of place atop of a Guinness.
The flavor on this has not mellowed either, at least not to my recollection. It starts with a smooth, medium-bodied wave of molasses and vanilla, but transitions very quickly into the bourbon/whiskey flavors and loads of oak. To be quite honest, it's difficult to find much beyond the bourbon, its warmth, and the sugary vanilla goodness. The finish is still boozy and sweet, but does add a layer of bitter to things as the beer sticks to the back of the throat and leaves the mouth slick. The aftertaste is a less intense of version of what one would find after drinking bourbon on the rocks.
Obviously the warmth is a major factor in the mouthfeel of this brew, yet surprisingly the alcohol does not achieve any sort of drying effect on the mouth. The beer instead makes the mouth water and makes it slick or even sticky in the back of the throat (must... refraining from... "That's what she said"). It also begins by feeling fairly substantial in the mouth, but soon becomes thin despite all of the malts inevitably used to achieve the high levels of sweetness. It's a 10.2% ABV, but the warmth is done well in this one.
Overall Impression 6/10
As mentioned eariler, the bourbon in this is simply too masking of other key attributes of the beer. All that is detectable is bourbon, sugary vanilla, and wood. The roasted malts that were detectable in the aroma are completely lost. Thankfully, the warmth settled when compared to a fresh bottle. It was never overbearing, but added just the right amount for the bourbon flavors to come across as truly authentic.
Overall Impression 40/50
This is not a bad beer by any means, but I've certainly had others in the style with much more to offer. I've had Wee Heavy beers with dark fruits detectable and stronger secondary malt characteristics (ahem, the roasted malt). I've also had them with more substantial bodies that truly carried the immense flavors within them. I enjoyed the boozy/sugary balance in Backwoods Bastard, but ultimately it was a fairly simply beer. It does what it does well, but minor tweaks could make this yet another beer from Founders that garners national attention.