The Brenner Brewing Grand Opening took place the weekend of November 21, 2014. One of the featured beers the first Friday of the Grand Opening weekend was Witchcraft, a 13.1% Russian Imperial stout brewed with 43lbs of Anodyne Coffee, 144lbs of Kallas Honey, 70lbs of Molasses, and 9 malt varieties. At $10 a glass it was easily the most expensive beer on tap, coming in $2 higher than the $8 taster flight containing samples of every other Brenner Beer. Even at this price the half barrel went fast and it was widely regarded as an excellent Russian Imperial Stout. When Witchcraft was released, Mike promised the world that he would be releasing an oak aged version of the beer within 6-12 months; now, 11 months later Mike is fulfilling that promise with a Halloween Day release of Barrel Aged Witchcraft.
The beer, which is selling for $10 per 12-oz bottle, will likely sell out at the release party unless secret backroom deals are made to stash bottles away for a local liquor store (not that I believe any such deal is in the works, but you never know). Fortunately I was able to snag a bottle at a press event last night for a pre-release review.
With the warmth behind us, and cold ahead, the inaugural batch of Witchcraft was Brewer under the harvest moon of 2014. This beer prepares you for the annual descent into darkness. Nine malt varieties, molasses, honey, and Anodyne coffee. Aged for one year in bourbon barrels and virgin Missouri oak barrels. The result is nothing short of perfection.
Witchcraft pours a deep, opaque, oily black and is capped by a moderately thick small bubbled mocha brown head that holds moderately low retention (less than 2 min) before fading to a thick collar around the edges of the glass and leaving a fair amount of lacing behind. Not quite leggy, the viscosity of Barrel Aged Witchcraft is immediately apparent as the unfermentable sugars in the beer cling to the edges of the glass with a slight swirl. The aroma is led with coffee and rich dark chocolate with subtle notes of caramel adding depth and complexity to the nose. Slight dark malts and woody oak ease in, lingering in the background to be replaced by a touch of honeyed bourbon and a slight charred aroma reminiscent of toasting marshmallows. A semi-sweet boozy back end betrays Witchcraft’s 13.5% ABV. I always like picking up alcohol in a high ABV beer and fortunately the alcohol in Witchcraft adds to the experience rather than detracting from it, as is often the case in young high ABV beers.
Milk and dark chocolate lead in the flavor, blending effortlessly with notes of a high end medium roast coffee. Bourbon and caramelized vanilla beans rounds out the experience with semi-sweet chocolate and caramel in the back end and a lingering semi-sweet bourbon-y praline chocolate finish. As the beer warms in the glass it becomes increasingly sweet, without the sweetness ever reaching the point at which it detracts from the beer. Witchcraft is full bodied, viscous, and as smooth as silk with a moderately low level of carbonation. The 13.5% is pleasantly numbing which, of course, is a good thing.
Witchcraft is an excellent beer that is by far one of the best Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stouts that I have had the privilege of drinking. The malty sweetness is perfectly complemented by the coffee and bourbon barrels, with the virgin oak making an appearance as well. For those of you showing up to the release tomorrow, there is a distinct difference in both aroma and flavor between the draft and bottled versions. Both are exquisite, but I strongly prefer the bottled version if only because it’s easier to control the serving temperature. This is definitely a beer that improves as it warms with a good serving range in the mid to high 50’s, although by the time I finished my bottle to write this review I was drinking it at room temperature and it was still excellent. Cheers to Mike Brenner on this one! The non-barrel aged release of Witchcraft was a great beer and the extended aging in barrels really turned the dial up to 11. I for one will be picking up my full allotment at the 10/31 release and highly recommend you do the same - if barrel aged stouts are your thing.
As a side note, I’m currently on a mission to make the hashtag #BetterThanDarkLord become a thing, because yes, this is a RIS that is better than that fabled limited release down south. Here’s to hoping that in another couple years Mike Brenner will throw Witchcraft Day and the lines will wind around the block.
That’s all for tonight, be sure to swing by Brenner tomorrow morning (10/31/15) for your bottles of Witchcraft or by Anodyne Coffee tomorrow night to enjoy a couple bottles during the Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound show!
Happy Drinking and remember to always Drink Wisconsinbly!