I'm a sucker for wax. I'm not entirely sure why, but a bottle crested with a crown of wax instantly screams that quality is guaranteed. It's probably a little naive to believe a dollop of hardened hydrocarbons necessarily has any bearing on the product it houses, but, thus far, the bias has served me pretty well (see Makers Mark, Knob Creek and Deschutes Brewery's The Abyss for Exhibits A, B and C). So, when Mission Brewery offered me a bottle of the Dark Seas Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout, I was visibly giddy.
This stout was aged for 20 months in Four Roses whiskey barrels. It's not a whiskey I'm familiar with, but presuming it tastes like whiskey, I'd likely approve. The limited-edition Dark Seas is being sold in 750-milliliter bottles around town and may still be available in the tasting room.
This could be my recent True Blood marathon talking, but this stout pours with a blood-like viscosity. It has notable aromas of caramel, malt balls, booze and coffee, all of which signal I'm about to tear into this the way Vampire Bill devoured Sookie midway through Season 1.
The first taste has a good deal of character, even if those characteristics are a bit muddled. It's boldly roasty with dark flavors somewhere between dark chocolate and espresso. Underlying that is a malty sweetness and a lot of whiskey warmth and maybe a hint of molasses. However, the dimension where this beer really shows its maturity is the creamy texture of the drink itself. It's full-bodied and just tastes luxurious.
The bourbon-barrel-aged Dark Seas is a real evolution of its progenitor. It's returned from boarding school reformed and matured. Whether or not it's worth the roughly $20 price tag is purely subjective, but I can say that the wax test has once again proved reliable as a guidepost for quality.