- Mike Riedel
Once upon a time, Wasatch Brewery's Park City Brewpub was the most innovative craft beer spot in Utah. It was the first and only local brewery to open in Utah since Lucky Lager closed shop in the 1960s. Every beer that came out of Wasatch was innovative, because every beer was a first locally. Increased competition might have slowed their ability to be the revolutionaries in Utah-brewed beer, but new energy at the state's original craft brewery has been setting new standards with its Top of Main series.
Wasatch English Style Barleywine Ale: This special barleywine was aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It pours a dark hazy amber, almost brown in color with a smallish fluffy, khaki-colored head that leaves some spotty lacing. The aroma begins with a decent amount of wine character, including grapes, dates and figs. Then you get the dark toffee and caramelized sugar and honey typical of the style. As it warms, you get some lighter, boozier Pinot notes of rum-soaked raisins. The tastes follow the nose, but are slightly less complex, as the same dark caramel, toffee and rum-soaked raisins are present once again. The vinous taste blends well with the toffee and vanilla base of the beer, and adds complexity to the bold alcohol character. It is readily noticeable that at the time of this sampling, though the beer is relatively fresh, it does have a cellared or aged feel to it. After the brew came up to almost room temperature, there was a bit of a twang about it that had me thinking it was a lactic note, but not quite. Perhaps it was just another one of the somewhat strange vinous contribution from the barrels.
Overall: This is a very high quality barrel-aged barleywine from a division of Wasatch that doesn't do much barrel aging. Nils Imboden, head brewer at Wasatch's grand dame Park City brewery, deserves big props for this adventurous beer, and I can't wait to get a few more cans to see how a little in my cellar treats this barley-meets-vine combination.
Wasatch Baltic Porter Lager: Our second beer from the Top of Main series was laid down to age in brandy wine barrels. As you can imagine, this porter pours a very deep brown color. Clarity looked good on the pour, but in the glass not a shard of light passes through, even toward the edges. A finger of creamy and dense dark tan head sits atop the beer for a good, long time. On the nose, brandy is noticeable up front; it's sugary and chocolatey, with a swirl of dark fruit and spiced wine. It's quite fruity up front as the first sip hits the tongue, but the brandy slowly fades into a chocolate assault—milk chocolate mixing with some bitter char. It's in the realm of Black Forest cake topped with a brandy reduction. Dark roasted flavors, including a bit of coffee, linger past the swallow well into the aftertaste. To me, this really comes across as a rich dessert in a glass. Smooth and frothy carbonation takes you to a milkshake state of mind. There is a noticeable warmth and liquor impression from the brandy barrels, but it's not even close to overpowering or totally dominant.
Overall: For as busy as this 9.9% beer is, it's drinkability is higher than you might imagine. The chocolate and brandy combo recalls the familiar flavors of those liqueur-filled wrapped chocolates many of us enjoy over the holidays.
Like all barrel-aged beers, these will be limited in availability. Look for these special canned releases at Wasatch's flagship brewery in Park City or at West Side Tavern (Utah Brewers Cooperative) in Salt Lake City. As always, cheers!