Review: Firestone Walker Sucaba Barley Wine Ale (2018)
The explosion in barrel-aged beers has led to a growing trend in the cellar aging of these brews. High in alcohol content with boozy barrel notes, barrel-aged beers are widely believed to improve, like many wines, with a year or more in the bottle. California’s Firestone Walker Brewery has an impressive stock of barrel-aged beers in their portfolio, but only one encourages cellaring right on the label. After an absence in 2017, the Sucaba barrel-aged barley wine returned to their Proprietor’s Vintage Series earlier this year. The name – abacus spelled backwards – is Firestone Walker’s subtle way of recommending to its customers that it be cellared and that those customers, according to the company’s website, “count the years with an abacus.” Don’t tell the fine folks at Firestone Walker, but I cracked into my bottle after only eight months. The curiosity was just too much for me.
Sucaba pours a rich, dark amber color, almost cola, with a thin espresso crema head. The nose is all malt balls with baking chocolate and a funky overripe strawberry note. There’s bourbon barrel in the aroma, too, but it’s not overly boozy, allowing vanilla bean, oak, and trace amounts of baking spice into the mix. On the palate, it’s rich and sweet but not gummy or saccharine the way some barrel-aged beers can be. The body is creamy but still a little effervescent with a balance of flavor that closely mirrors the nose. Brown sugar and slightly bitter molasses notes are balanced with tart dark fruits dusted in baking spice. The finish is long and maintains a consistent creaminess with lingering notes of melted vanilla ice cream and cocktail cherries.
While I clearly wasn’t patient enough to see how this one tasted after years in the basement, it didn’t disappoint even before its first birthday.
A- / $10 per 12 oz. bottle / firestonebeer.com