Gravity Well 2018: Five bottles drop 11/17
From time to time, I’m asked about the future of the industry. One frequent question is whether bottle releases still draw a crowd. While the serious beer enthusiast may be more picky about what makes it into her cellar, more “average” drinkers seem to be showing up, and in significant numbers.
Minnesota beer event calendars are still populated, weekend after weekend, with special releases. The perennial favorites include Lift Bridge Commander, Surly Darkness, and Bent Paddle Double Shot Double Black. HammerHeart, Town Hall Barrel Week beers, and Dangerous Man are significant blips on the radar, too.
One annual release popular among the diehards and taproom goers alike is Insight Brewing’s Gravity Well. Fans of the barrel-aged imperial stout, now in it’s fourth year, will be pleased to hear that five variations will be sold at this year’s Trip Around the Sun party on 11/17, and every finished product has been barrel-aged. Starting at 2pm, this is what you have to look forward to:
Oak Barrel Original Reserve: 2018 Original Reserve is this year’s stout put into second use rum and bourbon barrels and aged for about 11 months. Two different bourbon-barrel aged beers were blended with the rum version. Due to the decreased potency of the spirit character, the beer itself is perhaps best showcased here. Beautiful molasses and dark cocoa are the highlights.
Cognac: The original idea behind Gravity Well was to finish it in cognac barrels. Lo and behold, they were not easy to come by! This year, taste the Cognac-aged version of a beer whose recipe was designed specifically for Cognac destiny. The barrels are uncharred and larger, thus there is a somewhat lighter profile in this version. I get notes of wildflower honey and treacle. The barrels were very wet when filled, and thus there’s a pleasant cognac finish after swallowing.
Maple: Don’t let visions of pancakes fool you – there’s no syrup to be found in this variant. These storied barrels housed Heaven Hill Bourbon for 5 years, and were then home to Wisconsin-made maple syrup for one. Due to the barrel shipment, the beer spent slightly less time in the wood than in the other versions. A pleasant soft and rounded profile makes this one of my top stout picks of the year. While searching for maple, the most I could find was a subtle earthiness. The syrup is more of a complimentary ingredient than a flavor. Bravo.
Bourbon: This is the classic for a reason. Bourbon and imperial stout compliment each other so well that it’s hard to understand what the char and the spirit contribute as opposed to the specialty grains. Remarkably, this Gravity Well was all aged in the same type of barrel, Heaven Hill 5-year bourbon. There was no blending across brands as was required in years past.
Scotch: Do you like Scotch? If you’re harboring any uncertainty at all, this may not be the beer for you. On the other hand, if peated and lingering is your thing, warmest welcome. Sure, the peat is more subtle than straight peated scotch. The barrels were blended 50/50 with peated and non-peated products. But that’s where the subtly ends. This is bona-fide-Ron-Burgundy-scotchy-scotch-scotch — don’t let anyone try to persuade you otherwise. It would make a wonderful gift.
Each varietal contains about 11% ABV, and the increased alcohol has drawn out enhanced flavors, as well as greater body and a bit of heat. I’d wager that all five would stand up to some aging, but none require it. This speaks to the brewing finesse and meticulous barrel selection at Insight.
Additional experimentation is on the horizon at Insight. Watch for beer aged in a hot sauce barrel (has this been done before? If so, I want to hear about it, STAT), plus multi-year reserve beer. At the 2019 party, Insight plans to serve 2-year-old Gravity Well, in addition to possible tequila trials.
Trip Around the Sun is November 17th, starting at 2pm. All bottles will be on sale at the beginning of the event. Each bottle is $25, except the Oak Barrel Reserve, which is $20. Word on the street is that the Maple (one bottle limit) is the most limited, however, the quantities available of each version are greater than in years past. Live music includes one of my favs, Heat Box, as well as Pleezer and more. See you there.