After its initial release in February 2009, Top Sail was aged for about 10 months in Bourbon casks from Kentucky. This aging presents hints of chocolate, figs and oak to this amplified robust porter. Deep black in color, it has a roasty malt flavor and a rich malt sweetness that’s smooth and drinkable. A hearty cellar beer.
The casks they used were from Maker's Mark, Stranahan's, and Four Roses, if I recall what I read somewhere correctly. The beer was aged in the individual casks, then mixed together for bottling. If you live in either Portland or Hood River and managed to make it to their brew pubs the day it was released, they were serving horizontal tastings from each of the three casks for comparison. While it would have been fun, I didn't make it for that - but I did make a special trip out to Belmont Station once I saw they had it in stock.
At $12 for a 22oz bottle it's again not cheap, but I think I've made it clear by now that's not prohibitive if it's something that sounds good.
So how was it? It poured dark and thick, and compared with the Bourbon Barrel Quad the bourbon wasn't as strong smelling, nor did it have any kind of fruitiness to the nose. It smelled like it looked - dark and heavy.
The taste was the same - dark, thick, heavy. I found flavors of chocolate and caramel mixed into the dense maltiness of the beer, but the flavor that first popped into my head was "earthy." I'm not exactly sure how to describe that, but it tasted like it was somehow raw and had just come out from a long time away - which it had. The brewers at Full Sail say this is something best to buy and save, because they feel the full flavors will reveal themselves only with time.
To me that's a good thing. If this is all it was I can't say I'd be disappointed, but I wouldn't be ecstatic either. I may get another bottle of this to squirrel away for a couple years, just to see if the flavors really do develop into something more crisp and flavorful.
Because of that conclusion, I'm not necessarily sure I can recommend this. If you aren't sure either, go with the Boulevard brew if you have that choice.