Beer. Dragons. Two of my favorite things combined. I told my husband when I ordered it that I was going to be pissed if they wasted such an awesome name on a bad beer. No worries: it’s good stuff.
Name: Dragon’s Milk Oak Barrel Ale
Origin: New Holland Brewing Co., Holland, MI
Style: American Strong Ale
IBU: not listed
I drank this: from a bottle at Swagger, Kansas City, MO
This beer is predominantly about two things: alcohol and oak. (And dragons. Win.)
It pours from the bottle as a rich, dark, almost milk chocolate brown-colored ale with absolutely nary a head in sight. There’s very light, almost nonexistent carbonation, which probably contributes to the lack of head. The light level of carbonation helps to give this beer a syrupy texture, even more so than typical oak barrel aged beers – the closest comparison that I can give is to a mouthful of maple syrup with just a hint of something slightly fizzy.
Scent-wise, this is a strong alcohol hit (one of the few times I’ve actually been able to smell the alcohol in a beer) with heavy overtones of vanilla, oak and dark malt. It’s complex and almost perfume-y sweet.
This is one of those beers where I need to break down the experience of taking a sip into three distinct components. The very first hit is a strongly oaky/vanilla-sweet flavor. Then the alcohol catches up, and it quickly develops something of a tongue-burning sensation of the type you’d be familiar with in bourbons/whiskeys/that type of hard alcohol. There’s a distinct moment of vanilla malt right at the moment of swallowing, which leads smoothly into a chocolate/alcohol/oak aftertaste. It’s complex and really interesting to drink, but also the type of beer that will be demanding so much of your attention that it may be difficult to keep up with a conversation. I also wouldn’t drink it with food, but that’s just me: the label on the bottle suggested drinking it with smoked meats and other foods of that ilk.
Overall, this is the type of beer that can warm you up quickly when you’re cold – I’d recommend having some on hand in January. It would be a fantastic beer to drink when you’re tired of being bashed over the head with barleywines but still want something strong and warming. On the other hand, don’t go near this stuff in July. You’d be miserable.
Final note: if you’ve never had anything really oaky and don’t know what I mean when I say something tastes like oak, try the following little experiment. Get a bottle of California chardonnay, one where the label prominently mentions the oak. Then get a bottle of chardonnay from another country, looking specifically for one that is un-oaked (ask someone at the liquor store if you’re not sure – they’ll be able to point you in the right direction). Pour each into a glass and try side-by-side drinks. The major difference between the two wines will be a distinctly vanilla/woodsy flavor and a slightly thicker texture. The thickness and the vanilla/wood flavor is a result of the oak. To sum up, oak lends a lot of complexity and sweetness to the booze. In the beer world, oak is something I find interesting because of what it does to hops: you can still taste something of the hop flavor by the time a beer has been oak-aged, but the bitterness has been toned WAY down. I also tend to notice alcohol as a flavor more strongly when something has been oak-aged, but I suspect that also has something to do with the fact that most brewers don’t bother oaking anything under about 8% ABV.