Feb 1, 2012

Karl Strauss 23rd Anniversary Old Ale

Karl Strauss Old Ale photo

Aging beer in retired bourbon barrels isn’t anything new. In fact, within the confines of this site you’ll find plenty of reviews for a variety of such beers including stouts, porters, IPAs and barleywines. This, however, will be my first Old Ale that’s matured in any sort of barrel.

And aged it has been. Karl Strauss set aside this Old Ale for 12 full months, letting the beer pull from the retired barrels all of the bourbony goodness it could. The beer has a bourbon character that I would describe as moderate, yet delicate. You would think that after a year in barrels the beer would be more bourbon-forward in terms of it’s flavor, but it’s actually quite approachable — hell, my wife (who isn’t a bourbon fan) kept stealing sips from my glass.

I’ve had the opportunity to sample many of this brewery’s beers over the past couple of years as they have experimented with barrel aging. The progression and craftsmanship that has evolved with regard to these specialty brews is impressive. Each release of this fashion just keeps getting better and better.


The beer pours copper in color with a quickly dropping light tan head.


There’s a strong vanilla/oak presence up front with a decent amount of caramel, a touch of raison and a glorious bourbon character. Unlike many of the barrel aged beers I’ve had, this one doesn’t reek of bourbon/booze or overwhelm the senses. That’s impressive considering this beer weighs in at 12.2% ABV.


Oh man, this thing is smooth. This unblended beer starts off with solid vanilla and bourbon notes that transition slowly over caramel malt and dark fruits. It doesn’t taste boozy and is deceptively drinkable though the higher ABV does leave a bit of a glowing warmth in the chest. The bourbon is definitely present, but it’s on a level that is delicate and refined. There’s a touch of hop bitterness late in the finish. As smooth and approachable as this beer is, it is still a big beer that doesn’t mess around. It’s definitely a sipper.


Drinking a beer like this, it’s easy to see why I’ve praised this brewery in just about every review of their products that I’ve done. This 23rd Anniversary release is well balanced, smooth, full flavored and a treat to enjoy. I’m still amazed at the refined bourbon character that the beer carries. The brewery has done a great job not letting the barrel overtake the Old Ale in terms of it’s flavor. This still tastes like a beer — just one that spent a good length of time in barrels that fully complimented it’s natural character. Well done, Karl Strauss!

Rating: 4/5

This is a review of a promotional sample received from the brewery.

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