Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Full Sail Brewing Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter

Full Sail Brewing hails from Hood River, Oregon, and first came upon my beer radar when I was visiting Shaun in Seattle in late summer of 2007.  On my last night in town, at one of the bars we visited someone poured me some kind of beer in a Full Sail glass.  I somehow still have the glass, having really liked the name and logo.  Shaun's recent belated review of Bell's Hopslam reminded me that I'm delinquent on a review of Full Sail's Top Sail Porter, bourbon barrel aged.  Shaun tortured me last year by sending me a photo of a perfectly poured glass of this beer but made up for it by sending me a bottle last fall.  I opened it soon thereafter and took tasting notes that I need to share in a full review.  My hope was that this beer would match the hype I had worked up in my mind after the enticing photo. 

So, last November came the big moment when I poured my Full Sail.  I waited until Ohio State was playing a big game against Iowa and I could spend some time alone at home with this beer. My experience with Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout taught me that bourbon beers are nothing to be messed with and the Top Sail came in a large format bottle.  This beer was going to occupy my attention for a while.  Even though this was to be pure enjoyment, I had my notepad ready.  Beers boasting 10% alcohol make you quickly forget things.  What was my high school girlfriend's name again?  Wait. Where did I go to high school?  You get the idea.

Anyway, on to the review. As you can see above, I poured this into an upright goblet. I wanted a vertical glass so as to boast this beer's commanding toffee colored head.  And it helped me re-create Shaun's infamous photo, still haunting me at the time.  Aromas of oatmeal, dark chocolate, and bread streamed out as if one of the Cascades erupted.  An opaque, mysterious substance lies underneath, waiting, challenging you to enter the depths. There's no turning back.

Top Sail's mouthfeel is moderate and somewhat syrupy but never overtly dense. Unlike Port's Older Viscosity and Lost Abbey's Angel's Share, the substantial carbonation as suggested by the head engages your mouth through each sip.  There's a dizzying array of flavors.  Dark chocolate is present.  There's also oatmeal, licorice, coffee, caramel, and dark roast.  The bourbon flavor arrives late toward the finish and its smoky notes and odor build up after a while, and more so as the beer warms.  The finish is roasty and slightly sweet with a slight burn of alcohol.  Top Sail leaves incredible khaki colored lacing on the glass, like windswept snow against windowpanes.  The aforementioned head never disappears.

Top Sail is stated to reside at 9.85% and probably does.  Upon finishing this I felt a deep, mellow buzz but was never underwater.

This is a remarkable beer and quite an achievement in brewing.  The integration of flavors is magnificent as it seamlessly transitions from what appears to be a bitter chocolate porter to a bourbon aged stout on the finish.  There's little else in its class.

PROS:  You'll want one every week and you won't want to share it with your beer geek friends.

CONS:  Your beer geek friends will hate you, you cad, because you won't be able to resist telling them about it.  You still won't share. 

VERDICT:  If any beer is worth becoming a friendless recluse over, it's this one.  That's what TiVo is for.

5 stars.


BeerShaun said...

Just a note. Full Sail only produces this every other year. They alternate brewing their imperial stout and imperial porter. Then take a portion and age it in barrels for the following year. This year they released their new imperial porter and their Black Gold, Barrel aged Imperial stout from last year's imperial stout. Have to wait until next spring for Top Sail!

MJS said...

Ah. Well I'm sure the Black Gold is pretty amazing too. It's a (bourbon?) barreled stout, and how bad can the underlying stout be if it's Full Sail? Nevertheless, the Top Sail is incredible and certainly worth waiting for.