Ohio vs the World Part 6 – Barrel Aged BamBaLam vs Dark Apparition vs KBS

As the days get short and the mercury drops, the popularity of strong, dark beers waxes. What better time to break out that bottle of barrel aged imperial stout that’s been quietly aging in your cellar. A perfect time for the long awaited next installment of my Ohio vs the World series, a sporadic feature where we see how local favorites stack up against style-defining beers from all over the globe.  Today’s epic match pits barrel aged stouts from Jackie O’s, arguably Ohio’s most accomplished brewer of stouts, and local high gravity masters Zaftig, against Founder’s KBS, a beer that helped define the genre.

To help with the enviable task of judging these beers I’m joined by two household names in the Columbus beer scene—Angelo Signorino, who after a quarter century brewing at Barley’s Ale house is easily one of Ohio’s most experienced brewers, and Dan Eaton, who covers the beer industry (among other topics) for Columbus Business First.  Both are veterans of past Pat’s Pints taste tests.  As always, the identities of the beers were not revealed until each beer had been evaluated, scored, and ranked.

In the sake of full disclosure, I should point out that this tasting took place in early August before I headed across the pond for a year’s sabbatical in the UK, but only diehards drink barrel aged stouts in the dog days of August, so I held back on this post until the timing seemed right.

Let’s start with the tale of the tape on the protagonists in today’s showdown.

Barrel Aged BamBaLam

  • Brewery: Zaftig Brewing Company (Columbus, OH)
  • ABV: 10%
  • Notes: Named after a line in the Ram Jam song Black Betty, Zaftig infuses BamBaLam with Crimson Cup coffee and Ghirardelli chocolate.  The barrel aged version is further enhanced by aging for 9 months in OYO and Watershed Bourbon Barrels. zaftig BamBaLam label

Vanilla & Coffee Bean Bourbon Barrel Dark Apparition

  • Brewery: Jackie O’s (Athens, OH)
  • ABV: 12.5%
  • Notes: Brad Clark and company at Jackie O’s use seven different malts for Dark Apparition, their masterpiece imperial stout.  This special version is aged in bourbon barrels and conditioned on vanilla and whole coffee beans.

Jackie Os Dark Apparition

Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS)

  • Brewery: Founders (Grand Rapids, MI)
  • ABV: 11.8% (approximately)
  • Notes: An imperial stout brewed with chocolate and coffee, then transferred to oak bourbon barrels and left to condition for a year in the cool dry environment of abandoned gypsum caves below Grand Rapids, Michigan.  First released in 2004, KBS has become one of the most sought after beers in the Midwest.

founders-kbs

Tasting Notes

A compilation of our tasting notes for each beer is given below.

Barrel Aged BamBaLam

Aroma – Sweet, complex and a bit boozy, with a big nose of chocolate and molasses, subtle background note of bourbon.

Appearance – Very dark, approaching jet black, completely opaque, topped with a small mocha head, which doesn’t last long.  A swirl of the dark liquid leaves legs of alcohol that slowly crawl down the inner walls of the glass.

Flavor – Rich, smooth milk chocolate flavor leads the way, somewhat restrained roasted flavors follow.  Caramelized sugars add complexity, but it’s not quite as molasses forward as the nose would suggest. There’s a lovely background note of vanilla that works well with the chocolate. There’s no missing the alcohol, but it’s well integrated into the bigger picture and does not come across as being harsh.  Interestingly none of us could pick up coffee, and the bourbon flavor is quite subtle. There is an intriguing flash of coconut that shows up at the finish and lingers.  Well attenuated for the style.

Mouthfeel – Full bodied, but not quite as thick and chewy as a barrel aged imperial stout can go.  Nonetheless, it goes down smooth.

Overall – Surprisingly, for a brewery that makes a living high in the high-abv zone, this chocolate-rich complex beer is notable for its restraint.  It’s boozy, but there’s no alcohol burn.  It’s rich and complex, but not cloying. The subtle hints of coconut and vanilla add intrigue.

Vanilla & Coffee Bean Bourbon Barrel Dark Apparition

Aroma – To my nose this beer smells of chocolate, molasses, and booze, not wildly different from BamBaLam, but the other judges noted an odd cheesy aroma that was not welcome.

Appearance – Black as the winter night, utterly opaque, with a beige head.  While that description sounds like just about every imperial stout, this beer gets bonus points for better head retention than one expects from a barrel aged imperial stout.

Flavor – A complex potpourri of stout flavors define the taste—chocolate, vanilla, tobacco, bourbon, and a subtle umami character, presumably from yeast autolysis.  Roasty bitterness is restrained, coffee flavors are so subtle that two of the three judges didn’t pick them up at all.  Both the vanilla and the bourbon are more to the fore than they were in BamBaLam.

Mouthfeel – Medium to full bodied and silky smooth, with enough alcohol warmth to take the chill off a cold winter day.

Overall – Flavorwise the bourbon is a bit more apparent here than in the other two beers, given the 12.5% abv one might assume that a fair bit of bourbon was picked up from the barrels (the non-BA version of Dark Apparition is 10% abv).  There’s much to like about this beer, it packs an intense, complex flavor profile, but for Dan and Angelo the odd note in the aroma detracted somewhat from the overall experience.

Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS)

Aroma – For the first time in this showdown the smell of coffee is present in the aroma, along with a healthy dose of bourbon, perhaps the booziest of the three on the nose.

Appearance – Jet black, completely opaque, small beige head, leaves thick legs when swirled in the glass.  It would be hard to visually distinguish these beers, all three have the look of a textbook imperial stout.

Flavor – Finally the coffee flavors are not relegated to the back of the bus, if anything they may be a bit too prominent for some. The malts are also roastier here, which gives more dark chocolate bitterness and less milk chocolate creaminess.  No mention of vanilla on any of the tasting sheets.  The booze is less prominent than I would have guessed from the nose.  The dry finish keeps you coming back for more.

Mouthfeel – Full bodied and silky smooth, a nice warming sensation wells up from deep in your torso after each sip.

Overall – Angelo’s comments sum KBS up nicely, “assertive roast/coffee makes for a unique beer among these three.  If you like your stouts full of coffee and roastiness this one nails it.”  Having said that both Dan and I felt it would be even better with a little more flavor complexity, for example a bit more vanilla from the bourbon barrels would help.

Ohio v World Round 6 BA Stouts

Results

Following the standard Ohio vs the World protocol, each judge individually evaluated the beers in silence, then we discussed the beers, and finally each judge rank ordered the beers from first to third on a secret ballot.  The results are as follows:

  • Angelo– BamBaLam (#1) > KBS (#2) > Dark Apparition (#3)
  • Dan– BamBaLam (#1) > Dark Apparition (#2) > KBS (#3)
  • Pat– Dark Apparition (#1) > BamBaLam (#2) > KBS (#3)

averaging over all three judges the winner is BamBaLam, scoring another victory for Ohio!  I’m a long time Zaftig supporter, but Jackie O’s has make such an amazing line of stouts that I have to admit I didn’t see this one coming.

It’s a little ironic that Zaftig, a brewery that refers to a 10% abv IPA (3 Socks) as an easy-drinking beer on their website, would have the lowest abv beer of the three but that’s the case.  That factor may help boost the drinkability of BA BamBaLam.  Another interesting contrast is the difference in both coffee and vanilla flavor.  KBS easily had the most coffee and the least vanilla, presumably revealing differences in process between the three breweries.  All three bottles of beer we sampled were bottled in 2017, making the ages as comparable as you can achieve for limited release seasonal beers like these.

The ingredients and process behind BamBaLam would suggest that Zaftig took their inspiration for BamBaLam from KBS.  I think Zaftig owner Jim Gokenbach would admit to as much if you asked him.  You have to give props to breweries like Founders and Goose Island for barrel aging imperial stouts when no one else was doing it, but if you’re one of those people who engages in the mad scramble that is KBS release day every April, don’t sleep on the barrel aged beers at Zaftig.  They might not have the most diverse range of beers, but if you are looking for high gravity malt-forward beers Zaftig can hold their own with just about anyone.  Don’t take our word for it either, their Barrel Aged Wee Heavy recently took home a gold medal at the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers (FoBAB) in Chicago.

This outcome means that Ohio beers have opened up a 4-2 lead over the World.  If you are so inclined you can revisit earlier matches in this series by following the links below:

Disclosure: Jim Gokenbach of Zaftig provided the bottles of BA BamBaLam and KBS for the tasting, both being rather difficult to track down any time other than release day.  In exchange I agreed to carry out this tasting.

3 thoughts on “Ohio vs the World Part 6 – Barrel Aged BamBaLam vs Dark Apparition vs KBS

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