The six-pack I bought at the Big Mikkeller Launch back in September has been sitting quietly in my attic ever since. Most of the bottles could do with a bit more ageing, I reckon, but a couple had dates recommending drinking by next autumn, so I figured they were ripe enough already.
At first glance it's hard to tell what separates silver-labelled Kølle from bronze-labelled TræKølle: both barley wines are the same strength, same bitterness level and from the same company (Amager, in association with Mikkeller, with co-operation from retailers Ølbutikken and ØlKonsortiet). Rather than try to pick a drinking order, Mrs Beer Nut and I decided to open them both at the same time and take it from there.
Kølle has that typical heady, alcoholic barley wine aroma: sweet yet hoppy. It follows this with a massive super-concentrated grapefruit hit, then comes a big metallic, galvanic tang -- nasty, like licking a pencil sharpener -- and then a long slow burn of citric hoppiness. It reminds me a lot of the insanely unbalanced Mikkeller Simcoe IPA being served at the European Beer Festival. A glance at the label suggests that Simcoe is indeed the single hop employed here. A bit more ageing might have let it mellow, but I couldn't be sure that something as good as, say, Bigfoot, would be likely to come out the other end. It's an awful lot thinner, for a start, making it hard to believe the strength is a stonking 10.5% ABV.
TræKølle, it seems, is the same beer matured on bourbon barrels. It's a little darker and strikingly lacks that fresh citric hops aroma -- all taken by those greedy angels, I guess. Unsurprisingly, the flavour is dominated by vanilla oak notes, the bourbon history being more than suggested. I'm inclined to say that the hop character is low, but that could be just by comparison with the other Simcoe bomb. It is bitter, however -- both beers claim 90 IBUs -- though here it's more of an acidic character against Kølle's sharp fruitiness. TræKølle is a mellower, calmer, sipping sort of barley wine, even though it does share the skinny body of its wilder sibling. We both preferred this version.
So there we have an object lesson on the effect of bourbon barrel ageing on outrageously hoppy beers. I reckon we can expect more of this kind of thing as 2009 progresses. Barrels are in.