Beer: Winter Bourbon Barrel Bomber Brewery: Grand Canyon Brewery Style: English Brown Ale ABV: 6 percent
When you see the words "bourbon barrel" on a bottle of beer, certain flavors can be expected. Bourbon, for one. Oak. Vanilla. Maple. Toffee. The best beers aged in bourbon barrels combine these flavors with those of the brew in ways both harmonious and delectable.
Grand Canyon's Winter Bourbon Barrel Bomber is not one of these beers.
See also: Grand Canyon Hop Bomber IPA
To be fair, the brew with a tongue-twisting name doesn't get its bourbon barrel flavor the traditional way (spending a few months to a few years inside a freshly emptied bourbon barrel). Instead, this beer gets much of its flavor from the addition of a Flavor Bomb. We've talked about these before, but I'll refresh you: designed by Grand Canyon with patents pending, the Flavor Bomb is a small plastic widget meant to be filled with ingredients that complement a beer. The capsule is placed inside a bottle before capping and, in theory, it adds additional flavor to the beer the longer the beer sits.
In the Winter Bourbon Barrel Bomber, the Flavor Bomb is stuffed with sticks of bourbon oak. Maple syrup also is added during fermentation, giving the yeast some additional sugars to eat and to convert into alcohol while providing an additional flavor wrinkle. Sounds like a winner, but the resulting brew is somehow less than the sum of its parts.
We begin with the appearance, in which a lack of any visible carbonation results in zero head formation. The brew does exhibit good clarity throughout its crimson hue, but only after some vigorous swirling was I able to stir up any bubbles. When I did, Winter Bourbon Barrel Bomber gave off a peanut-y aroma accented by something unpleasant -- ammonia, perhaps, or rubber. Hints of cinnamon and caramel do what they can to take the weird edge off.
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The flavor has less of the nastiness, but it's very mild. A splash of earthy hops leads, followed by biscuity malts and toffee undertones. What's missing is the liquor -- all I can discern of bourbon is a faint vanilla note as the beer's vaporous remnants swirl in the mouth.
Grand Canyon is to be applauded for its innovation with Flavor Bombs. The thought process behind them is sound. But something is lost in the execution. The white wax-topped bottles went to market October 17 and, as one of the few Arizona beers available outside the state, can be purchased in Nevada as well as throughout the Valley. But if you're a fan of sweet, rich, oaky bourbon beers, as I am, you should probably just let them stay there.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.