It’s been talked about in hushed tones and whispers for a while now, with lots of people asking us if it was really happening, and suddenly it’s here; Barrel Aged Mexicake. We first released Mexicake in April 2016, and whilst we knew it was good, we didn’t expect quite the overwhelmingly positive reaction it received including being named Best Speciality Beer at the Scottish Beer Awards. Eventually, people started asking if we planned to barrel age it, and we played coy on that subject…but the truth was that it was already slowly maturing and aging in not one, but two different kinds of barrel: Bourbon, and Brandy. If we were going to barrel age Mexicake, we were going to make it special.
But why barrel age a beer at all? If it’s good enough on its own, why bother? Head Brewer, Doug, was on hand as he always is to talk through the process that led to creating the beers.
“You get a maturation of the beer, and you get a mellowing of it too; barrel aging mellows the dark, roasted malts so it adds a lot to the overall smoothness. And obviously with the wood, it’s picking up the character from the oak and it picks up a lot from whatever spirit was previously in it as well. We inspect the empty barrels when they arrive to make sure they’re of a high quality for our beer”
“In terms of inspiration, Mexicake itself was a spur of the moment idea that we had that developed into this great beer, and we wanted to find a way to continue to develop it; barrel aging makes sense. It’s a nice big stout in its own right so you know it’s going to taste good when it comes out the barrel – aging it just takes it to the next level.
The reason we selected Bourbon and Brandy, well Mexicake is a beer that’s all about big, prominent flavours, and the two barrels both have flavours that tie into it. The obvious thing with the bourbon is vanilla, and that ties in nicely with the vanilla we add to the original beer. Whereas Brandy, has a softer oak character, so more a fruitcake and spice flavour that ties in with the cinnamon and chilli.
Picking the right barrel and beer is a process of matching. Spirit barrels have big flavours and you need to have the right beer that can stand up to that.
I think what’s important is the type of ingredients that go into it, from the Ceylon cinnamon to the high quality cocoa, everything makes an important contribution. We made a downstream Mulato chilli infusion to add to the barrels, giving it not only heat, but also that leathery, tobacco and slight smoke flavour which we reckoned would work really well with the oak.
We’ve also bottle conditioned it, as we do all our barrel aged beers, because when you’re barrel aging, there is more of an oxygen pick up, making the beer vulnerable to staling. The active yeast will consume that oxygen and give it a much longer shelf life – we’ve given Barrel Aged Mexicake 5 years! The bottle conditioning should also give us a nice smooth carbonation, helping with the overall body and mouthfeel of the beer”
And as for tasting notes? Don’t worry, Doug’s yet again on hand to deliver the goods. He says that each barrel highlights the flavours of Mexicake in a different way, picking up on different notes, and that trying them side by side makes for an interesting comparison.
“We used French Brandy barrels for this one. It imparts a unique brandy flavour bringing dried fruit and a touch of ground spice to the aroma and the flavour.
On the nose, sweet, subtle vanilla, and the cinnamon works well with the brandy barrel. You also get a bit of fruitcake, and nutmeg spice, with a pleasant soft oak character.
And on the palate, you get lots of body, it’s really velvety. The flavour is pretty much like the aroma, but with a bit of chilli in the background and a little more of that subtle fruity oak.”
“Without stating the obvious, with the Bourbon you get a lot of what you’d expect. We used Heaven Hill casks primarily, as we did for Old Fashioned.
On the nose you get a lot of what I’d say is enhanced vanilla – a combination of the vanilla we add to the beer, and the classic vanilla sweetness that’s synonymous with Kentucky bourbon. There’s also a bit of toasted oak, a bit more cinnamon, and just that whiff of straight up bourbon that you’d expect.
On the palate, you get much of the same; it’s super smooth, with a nice boozy warmth from the bourbon barrel. The smokiness I mentioned earlier from the chilli infusion works really well here with the slight bit of char you get from the barrel and they both lift each other up a bit.”
Barrel aging is always an exciting and interesting exercise at the brewery, and one we intend to look into more frequently. We started with Old Parochial back at the end of 2015, then Old Fashioned at the end of 2016, and now we have two different versions of Mexicake, both stunning in their own right. Both are small batch, as barrel aged beers so often are, so if you’d like to try both we suggest getting in there quick. We can’t wait to hear your notes.