In keeping with the season, I recently picked up a bottle of what I hoped would be a nice barrel-aged porter. Knowing nothing of the brewer and somewhat skeptical of the "aged in Aquavit barrels" note on the bottle, I decided to role the dice and give it a try. Afterall, why would you not want to stumble upon an aquavit barrel-aged beer that you love? Every once in a while it pays to roll the dice. This time, however, I'm not so sure.
Barrel aging – it's a wonderful addition to the world of beer when speaking of bourbon, rye and scotch barrels. Unfortunately, I'm not too sure that aquavit barrels help this beer. It's a fine porter. A little heavy but not unreasonable. The one thing it lacks is, sadly, something listed on the label. Where is the aquavit? It's absent from both the aroma and the taste. If barrel aging doesn't impart one of those two characteristics, then it's pretty much not barrel aged. Sure, it might be that the aquavit imparted an immeasurable level of smoothness to this beer – something, by the way, I'm not sure aquavit could do. While I've not had it, I understand it to be somewhere between "wonderfully spiced" and "fire water." Not necessarily the makings of a "smoothener" (if that wasn't a word, now it is).
So in your winter beer drinking days, I can only suggest that you pass on this one. Or at least, don't go into it thinking that you are going to be having a barrel-aged beer. Instead, just look at it as a strong porter of okay quality and move on (move on to, say, the Alaskan Smoked Porter or the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale!)
For more on the Haand Bryggeriet Aquavit Barrel-aged Porter, see Beer Advocate.