Anytime I hear about Allentown, Pennsylvania, that Billy Joel song invades my brain — I just cannot help it! The song artfully describes the tough conditions in a town that suffered the post-industrial blues. But these days, Allentown is not the same town from the song. In fact, the place is thriving, and craft beer is an important part of this renaissance. This is nowhere more evident than at Allentown Brew Works.
The brewery is young, established only in 2007. Including both the brewery and an attached restaurant (brewpub, or brasserie), the company is owned by the Fegley family, who also founded Bethlehem Brew Works in 1998. Allentown Brew Works has five signature beers and ten flagship beers that they brew year-round, they also brew seasonal beers, including a pumpkin ale in October, when Pennsylvania becomes cold as hell. I really, really love the idea of seasonal brews, and I am enchanted by the idea of snuggling up next to a fire with a lovely lady, enjoying pumpkin ale and lively discussion.
Allentown Brew Works Fegley’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Insidious (woo, that’s a long name!) has an ABV of 9.0%. What makes it even more complicated is that the company calls the beer both Fegley’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Insidious, and in other places, Bourbon Barrel Insidious Imperial Stout. What a mouthful! This penchant for long, creative names for craft beers is fine and dandy, but sometimes I believe it gets out of hand. Alas, I digress.
The beer is an imperial stout, meaning that it is basically a top-fermented, cold-fermented lager, brewed with dark-roasted grains. And as the beer’s name indicates, Allentown Brew Works ages it for a year in former bourbon whiskey barrels. Apparently, the company makes an Insidious Stout, and this is that stout after barrel-aging.
Bottle: The bottle is brown glass. The label, a lighter brown, is sleek and subtle. The lettering is yellow, and the label includes the logo of what appears to be a compass, or a map’s directional legend.
Pour: The color is tarry black. There is a tiny head that dissipates almost immediately, leaving no lacing.
Aroma: The bouquet is that of deep vanilla, coffee, and roasted malt, with an undercurrent of chocolate. The aroma is a bit too sweet for my personal taste, but it is certainly rich and complex. There is also an element of bourbon whiskey.
Flavor: The flavor begins by following the aroma, with deep, dark chocolate, vanilla, and coffee, with the extreme presence of malted, dark-roasted grains. At the finish, a slight bitterness and (surprisingly) spiciness come through, with an aftertaste of bitter chocolate. The bourbon from the barrel aging imparts bourbon alcohol, and earthy oak, which are a lovely touch.
Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is thick and silky. The carbonation is very low — too low in my opinion. The relatively high alcohol content serves as a mitigator to the syrupy sweetness, but not enough.
Structure: This is a solidly-structured beer for sure. The barrel aging actually changes some of the chemical properties of the beer, and so it becomes very balanced with a very stable structure. I would personally like to see what would happen if it were aged for, say, three years instead of one.
Food Pairing: This thick, creamy, dense stout would go well with dark chocolate, rare steak, spicy pork chops, and especially raw oysters.
Overall Rating Out of 5 Possible Beer Mugs: