Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Three Baptists of Winter 2016

Epic Brewing's Big Bad Baptist is as close to a perfect beer as you will find in Colorado. Smelling like coffee and tasting like a whiskey barrel - without any overbearing alcoholic overtones, despite its 12.6 percent ABV body - it's a complex beer with a simple, almost creamy smoothness to it.

The idea of creating two spin-offs from the Baptist line - as the jointly located Denver/Salt Lake City brewery has done this year - is fraught, then, with both opportunity and risk, giving it a great starting point but also a ridiculous bar to cross in order to be something more than a Baptist hanger-on And the two new releases that debuted in November, Double Barrel Big Bad Baptist and Big Bad Baptista, show simultaneously that the experiment can work and that it can be burdened by the expectations that come from the original offering.

Double Barrel Baptist takes the whiskey-barrel, coffee-infused imperial stout recipe and ratchets it up with green coffee beans that are first aged themselves in whiskey barrels. Baptista, meanwhile, adds vanilla and cinnamon to the original mix, creating a beer reminiscent of traditional Mexican coffee.

The results are very different.

Double Barrel makes a very dark and full beer even darker, bringing to the forefront a heavier taste of the whiskey that seeps into all parts of its taste. It's a single-edged experiment, not as richly complex as Big Bad Baptist, but certainly a bold and daring offering that takes the coffee beer in a meatier direction as the type of snifter-occupying drink you should be sipping while watching the snow fall outside.

Baptista, were it to be a solo release, might strike a chord as a the richest beer to emulate a Mexican non-alcoholic drink yet. But coming from the Baptist line, it doesn't have that luxury. Instead, it comes across as a thick beer that its makers are trying to sweeten, true especially because the vanilla overtones dominate much more than the cinnamon. It's a worthwhile beer, for sure, but a big step down from its base beer.

And the Baptist? The 2016 version is on par, if not exceeding, the level of excellence set by its best predecessors. Not nearly as booze-soaked as its high ABV would portend it to be, the body is assertive without being overbearing, dabbling in whiskey, coffee and a hint of chocolate simultaneously and in harmony.

Therein lies the rub: Drinking Double Barrel or Baptista as stand-alone beers from any other brewery, people in the craft-beer community may be lauding them a lot more. But knowing the Triple-Crown-worthy beer that sired them, they feel more like intriguing experiments that won't ascend to the level of the Baptist itself, even if the Double Barrel especially is worth nabbing off the shelf.

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