It's rather amazing how my love of craft beer has made me drink less. My reputation as the "beer guy" among my circle of friends has created a rather false picture of my lifestyle. I love beer. That much is true. I love it more than just enjoying a beverage. I love the history of it, I love the industry and how so many styles and flavors can be created. So naturally I find myself posting about beer, reading about beer and discussing beer with friends. I'm also tight with a dollar.
While I do love beer, I don't buy as much as I'd like. If I am going to buy a beer, I'd want to make sure it'll be an experience. I'm not guaranteeing that I'll love it. I just want something to be different. I gravitate towards higher alcohol content beers because I'm fiscally responsible and because I prefer their overall taste. If I'm going to buy 1 single beer with my paycheck it better be worth it! Enter Against The Grain's London Balling. This 12.5% ABV English Style Barley wine caught my attention fairly easily. Again I was suckered in by a unique label design. The fact that it was in a can was also interesting to me. I just naturally assumed beers with high ABV would be in bottles thus allowing cellaring. I don't believe cellaring is possible with cans. Please feel free to utilize out comments section to correct me politely. Now for my thoughts.
Appearance: The "instructions" read "drink from the can" but I couldn't help but pour it to see how it looks. Its a deep reddish-brown not unlike caramel or dark honey. There was a thin tan head that didn't last very long. If caramel/honey coloring leads you to think this was a sweet beer, then good for you! It was!
Aroma: Your nose will immediately pick up the rich warmth of vanilla. It hits strong but isn't overpowering. My extremely novice homebrewing efforts have showed me how easy it is to get carried away with vanilla but it works perfectly here. There wasn't much hop aroma to detect which seems to be pretty consistent with the English style is my quick foray into Google is to be trusted. I was struggling to pinpoint the other scent but I do believe it must be oak. The label mentions that the vanilla and oak are products of the barrels. I don't know how to describe oak properly but I'm going to try by saying it's creamy woodsy.
Taste: Taste! The big one! Color is great for Instagram but what good is a beer that tastes bad? Good news for me! The bourbon flavor is low. I've been avoiding barrel aged beers after an non enjoyable offering at an event some time ago. The bourbon flavor was just too strong and didn't mesh well with the actual beer. But that was some other beer and not this one. Again, the vanilla works amazingly well here. There is some light bitterness on the end that reminds you that this beer was actually hopped. This light bitterness helps combat the sweetness derived from what I can assume to be an impressive grain bill. The 12.5% ABV provides a wonderful burn that also stops the beer from tasting cloyingly sweet.
Mouthfeel: Smooth. Low carbonation almost makes it feel like a liquor. It has a sticky end that envelopes around the tongue and mouth. This is certainly the mouthfeel I look for in a beer. I wanted an experience and I got it.
Overall: While the can suggested that I should drink from it, I found that it was easier to take careful sips from the glass. Maybe I just suck at drinking from a can but I wasn't able to detect any difference in flavor so best of luck to you. Some barrel aged beers rely too heavily on the residual bourbon flavor. I'm happy to say that this wasn't one of them. The oak and vanilla are used perfectly. This is a very warming beer that is probably best enjoyed during fall/winter instead of hot-ass July. I would buy it again even though one can will set me back $11≈ . I would love to find a bottled version for cellaring. I'm curious to see how the flavors would change. This is a good beer for anyone looking for an example of prominent oak flavors. As a novice home-brewer, I feel that oak is a safer bet than extract/flavoring when seeking a vanilla aspect in a beer.
I'm starting to consider food pairings. I find myself craving red meat when drinking this. I have no steak handy so I'm curious to see if anyone else has paired them and what the results were. We have a comments section so feel free to share those results, or any success cellaring a canned beer, or your thoughts on this beer or beers that you want be to try.