First Sip: Urban Growler Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stouts

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Urban Growler’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Urban Growler Brewing will release two barrel-aged Russian imperial stouts and two experimental beers at a ticketed event tonight. The Growler had a chance to get an advance taste of the stouts on Tuesday.

The St. Paul brewery made a single batch of the beer and split it between four barrels: two freshly used bourbon barrels from Iowa’s Cedar Ridge Distillery, and one red and one white wine barrel that were previously used to age Urban Growler’s 10,000 Plums Barleywine.

The un-aged 10% ABV base beer finished drier than most Russian imperial stouts, but carries enough sweetness to make it round and well-balanced. Some of the sharper coffee notes that were present when the beer went into the barrels have mellowed over the four months it’s been aging, said brewer Ben Sacquitne, who’s heading up Urban Growler’s small but growing barrel program.

The bourbon barrel version has rich flavors of vanilla, caramel, and oak. The beer from the red and white wine barrels was blended together and carries an altogether different flavor profile. The vanilla and caramel flavors are replaced with those of dark fruit and tannin from the wine barrels and plum barleywine. Being it’s the second turn of the barrels, the oak characteristics are also diminished.

The two stouts will be served side by side at the release event tonight so people can compare and contrast them. They’ll also be paired with crostini with pears, blue cheese, and prosciutto, and sweet potato latke with a dry rub topped with sour cream and smoked salmon.

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Deb Loch // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

In addition to the stouts, Urban Growler is tapping two experimental beers. The first is a pumpkin ale brewed with garam masala and served on nitro. Head brewer Deb Loch said she likes to add curry to her squash and pumpkin soups in the fall and took that as her inspiration for the beer. Instead of the Belgian yeast that helps bring out pumpkin pie spice notes in their pumpkin saison, Loch opted for a clean American ale yeast for this beer, which will be paired with veggie samosas with tamarind dipping sauce and chutney.

The second experimental beer is a porter fermented with Door County cherries and paired with a flourless chocolate torte with a cherry reduction.

At the time this article was published, there were a few tickets remaining for the event. If you can’t make it, the Russian imperial stouts will be available at Urban Growler’s taproom starting the day after Thanksgiving, as will the experimental beers if they’re not finished tonight.

While these beers are among the first barrel-aged beers Urban Growler has released, they’ll be far from the last. Sacquitne, who’s currently splitting his time as a stay-at-home dad and was wearing his infant son, Frey, on his chest during our interview, is excited to grow Urban Growler’s barrel program. They recently acquired an adjacent space and are busy turning it into their barrel room and a second event space. Attendees at tonight’s release party will be the first to get a look at it.

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Ben Sacquitne and his son, Frey // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

The separate space will allow Urban Growler to wade further into mixed-fermentation beers. The two wine barrels have already been refilled with their Rhubarb Wit and inoculated with mixed cultures. Sacquitne and Loch have a plan for what’s going into the bourbon barrels next, but are keeping it under wraps for the time being.

A brewhouse expansion that will quadruple Urban Growler’s brewing capacity and allow them to brew more small-batch and one-off beers is getting underway next week. Four new 40-barrel fermentation tanks and two new 40-barrel brite tanks will allow them to meet the demand for their more crowd-pleasing flagship beers like their Cowbell Cream Ale and free up space in their existing 10-barrel fermenters for more experimentation.

 
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Keith Grauman About Keith Grauman

Keith Grauman is the web editor at The Growler. When he's not drinking beer at work, he can be found homebrewing, reading comics or playing with his kids in the front yard of his south Minneapolis home.