Pouring into the glass, Hardywood Park’s Bourbon Barrel Cru presents itself with a crystal-clear, dark reddish-brown hue, showcasing a medium body and minimal foam. The absence of an abundant head is notable, as a modest tan ring of bubbles forms around the glass’s edge. The 750ml bottle, corked and caged, offers a glimpse into the beer’s mahogany richness, setting the stage for what lies within.


Approaching the beer blindly, the aroma immediately signals the influence of bourbon barrel aging. Soft yet distinct, it releases notes of vanilla, buttercream frosting, rum cake, golden raisins, fruitcake, and a touch of red licorice. The lack of prior knowledge about the beer style or alcohol content adds an element of surprise, with the initial impression leaning towards a bourbon barrel American strong ale or barleywine. The consensus among a group of blind tasters aligns with the excellence of the bourbon barrel aging, while the base beer’s identity remains a subject of speculation.


Despite the anticipation of a syrupy-sweet, high-alcohol content beer, Hardywood’s Bourbon Barrel Cru surprises with nuanced complexity and a well-rounded profile. The sweetness, rated at a moderate 4 out of 10, and a mild bitterness at 3 out of 10, strike a harmonious balance. The absence of excessive sweetness allows the background bitterness to contribute to the beer’s structure, enhanced by moderate wood tannins. The careful interplay of bourbon and wood flavors, along with toffee, fruitcake, and red licorice, creates a compelling flavor profile. Impressively, the 12% ABV is expertly hidden, adding to the beer’s overall appeal.


Hardywood’s creation showcases expertise in barrel aging, evident in the exceptional dryness that avoids crossing into astringency. The beer’s texture is commendable, steering clear of the cloying characteristics often associated with similar strong dark ales. The balance achieved in mouthfeel further emphasizes the meticulous timing in extracting the beer from the barrels, allowing the bourbon barrel aroma to dominate without overpowering wood tannins.


Revealing its origin as an Abbey Quadrupel, Hardywood’s Bourbon Barrel Cru deviates significantly from the traditional style due to extensive barrel aging. The beer’s clarity, the absence of the original yeast expression, and the dominance of bourbon barrel characteristics make it a distinct entity, closer in spirit to the broad category of American strong ales. Despite this departure, the beer impresses with its complexity, balanced sweetness, and a refined interplay of flavors. This offering stands as a testament to Hardywood Park’s prowess in delivering a well-balanced and nuanced bourbon barrel strong ale, challenging the stereotype of overly sweet and boozy dark ales. Kudos to a phenomenal beer that renews faith in the art of crafting distinctive barrel-aged creations.