Reviewing My King Henry Clone Attempt


Goose Island Bourbon County Barley Wine on the left, homebrew variations in the middle and right.

Late in September 2013, I took a shot at brewing a clone of Goose Island’s King Henry barrel aged barley wine. The beer was left to rest on oak cubes which had been soaked in different spirits (Weller 12 Bourbon and Christian Drouin Calvados). After about 3 months on oak, I packaged the beer in individual bottles and decided to taste them blindly against Goose Island Bourbon County Barleywine — the closest beer I could track down that would resemble King Henry.

Rather than do an extensive review of each beer, I’d like to focus on the elements that are clearly different. The recipe I used came directly from Goose Island’s brewsheet for King Henry, so I am relatively confident in the grist make-up and hopping. That being said, I definitely did not achieve a clone due to the various reasons outlined below.

vertBarrel Character
The biggest thing separating my beers from the commercial example was the dramatic difference in barrel character. The Goose Island beer is extremely rich, with robust amounts of vanilla, toffee, and even a bit of sweetness coming from the barrel. Comparatively, the homebrew was almost thin, with a one-dimensional raw woody character that was dramatically different. I went through an exercise of adding slight amounts of bourbon back to the homebrewed beer, and while it helped, the character it imparted was more spirit-like in its booziness and lacked the depth and roundness of barrel notes the commercial beer contains. I’ve always been aware of the dramatic differences between simulated barrel aging, and actual barrel aging. Having these two beers side-by-side made this difference extremely obvious.

The only real omission from the brew sheets I formulated my recipe off had to do with yeast selection. I ended up using Wyeast 1098 British Ale which left my beer with a distinct ester character, not found in Goose Island’s beer. My beer had much more British character than the Goose Island product. For the next iteration of this I brew, I will definitely be revisiting my yeast choice.

The commercial example I am comparing my homebrew against is considerably darker in color. Previously I had discounted the statement I’ve heard in the past that the commercial beer picks up some color from the imperial stout which previously resided within the aging barrels. It’s tough for me to explain the color difference, so perhaps there is some truth to this.

While I wasn’t able to clone the beer, I still ended up with a really nice brew. It is somewhat one-dimensional in its oak character which I hope will evolve a bit with some age. The biggest take-away for me is that there truly is no substitute for genuine barrel aging. For my next iteration, I plan to obtain a 5-gallon whiskey barrel and see if I can get closer to the barrel character that Goose Island is able to achieve.

Bourbon County Brand Barleywine Review

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine‘Tis the season for Goose Island’s annual release of their Bourbon County line of beers. With this year’s release, the product line has grown to include a barrel-aged English-style barleywine in addition to their very tasty imperial stout offerings. Beer geeks around the country are giddy at the thought that this beer could be of the same lineage as King Henry — many a beer geek’s White Whale. It’s been over a year since I’ve sampled King Henry, but if my memory serves me correctly, this is a relatively similar beer.

Beer Data:

Purchased: 12/5/13 – $24.99 per 12 oz. 4-pack
Availability: Annually
Alcohol: 12.1% ABV

Commercial Description from Website:

Aged in the third-use barrels that were once home to Kentucky bourbon and then our renowned Bourbon County Stout, this traditional English-style barleywine possesses the subtlety of flavor that only comes from a barrel that’s gone through many seasons of ritual care. The intricacies of the previous barrel denizens – oak, charcoal, hints of tobacco and vanilla, and that signature bourbon heat – are all present in this beer. Hearty and complex, Bourbon County Brand Barleywine is a titan and a timeline; a bold, flavorful journey through the craft of barrel aging.

Tasting Notes:

Reviewed as a BJCP Category 22C. Wood-Aged Beer (English Barleywine base).

Aroma: (10/12)
Lots of big, sticky malt dominates the aroma. Most apparent on the malt side is a rich and luscious deep caramel as well as some molasses. There is a ton of pleasant oxidized malt character reminiscent of dark fruit and tart cherry — likely a consequence of the micro-oxidation that occurred while in the barrel. There is a surprisingly light oak character that has hints of vanilla and toasted coconut, which blend well with the base beer. Some hot alcohol is apparent, but it is minimal considering the high ABV. No hop aroma.

Appearance: (2/3)
Very deep mahogany — almost black. The beer is clear with a minimal tan head. This is an attractive beer, but a few shades too dark for the style.

Flavor: (16/20)
There is a richness to the malt that fills the palate with flavors of dark caramel upfront and toasty biscuit and bread crust on the back end. Again, there is lots of oxidized malt that comes off as raisin-like in the flavor. There is some definite boozy hot alcohol, which actually helps balance the heavy-handed malt sweetness. The hop bitterness is barely enough to balance the large amount of sweet malt. The bourbon flavor is definitely present, but not nearly as intense as other beers in the Bourbon County line.

Mouth Feel: (2/3)
“Chewy” is a fitting description of the mouthfeel. The beer is slightly slick and leaves the mouth a bit tacky and sticky. The carbonation is very soft, which serves to enhance the full-bodied nature of this beer. The beer is a bit syrupy on the finish, which detracts from the overall impression of the beer.

Overall Impression: (8/10)
This is a big and intensely complex malt-bomb. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, this beer will greatly exceed your expectations. A touch more attenuation seems like it would help the beer out in terms of drinkability (if there is such a thing for a 12.1% beer). There are some prominent oxidized notes in this beer that are pleasant, but not something I’d want to enhance by aging the beer any further. This would work well as a dessert beer or replacement for something like a Sauternes paired with a Roquefort cheese.

Score: 38 / 50 (Excellent)

Goose Island King Henry Clone Attempt

For those of you not immersed in the world of commercial beer geekery, let me tell you a story. This is the tale of a noble and regal beer. King Henry as he was called began his life as a massive English Barley Wine from the Goose Island brewery. Once fermented, he was left to rest inside oak casks which began their life holding Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and later the Rare variant of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. After an extended slumber, the sweet nectar was packaged and released to the masses for enthusiastic consumption and hoarding within dark cellars. King Henry became well-known throughout the land and developed a reputation of mythical stature.

Goose Island last released King Henry in 2011. Now that Goose Island is an AB-InBev owned and produced brand, it is pretty unlikely that it will ever be brewed again.

Beautiful viscous wort recirculating during my mash-out step. My new cobbled together  recirculation diffuser worked well.

Beautiful viscous wort recirculating during my mash-out step. My new cobbled together recirculation diffuser worked well.

Now some bad news — I’m not going to publish the recipe for this clone.

A homebrewing friend of mine was able to obtain the precise recipe from which the commercial beer was produced. With this information in hand, I was able to accurately formulate a scaled down homebrew recipe. This information was given to me with the caveat of not sharing it with the world.

As much as I wish that I could publish the recipe, Goose Island’s website actually gives some good information which can be used to formulate a recipe. Key metrics such as ABV and IBUs are listed, as are the malts and hops used. I can verify that my recipe is very much in line with the ingredients listed on the Goose Island website. The signature malt in this beer is a seasonal product called Caracrystal from by Briess Malting — something that the recipe formulation should account for.

I built up a massive pitch of yeast with the hope of fermenting out this extremely high gravity beer. Violent fermentation ensued, which is only now tapering down a week later. Once terminal gravity is hit, I intend to rack the beer into split secondaries containing oak cubes treated with varying spirits. With some luck, this beer will be finished and packaged sometime in February or March 2014. Stay tuned for a full review then!

Pumpkin Beer – Brewday and Recipe

2 Sugar Pumpkins were heavily roasted yielded about 3 pounds of sweet pumpkin meat.

2 sugar pumpkins were heavily roasted yielding about 3 pounds of sweet pumpkin meat that was pulverized and added to the mash.

Update: You can find a full review of this beer, here.

People seem to either love pumpkin beers, or love to hate them. Craft beer drinkers consume them in quantity each fall while a certain segment of ‘beer geeks’ gleefully rant about their disdain for the style and write them off as a trend (oh, the irony). Having been part of this latter group, I can confidently say that my tune has changed. In particular, I look forward to the yearly ritual of consuming high gravity samples like Elysian’s ‘Great Pumpkin’ and the signal of fall these beers represent.

Many craft pumpkin beers feature in-your-face spicing paired with a big residual sweetness. For this beer, I am shooting for something a bit different. While malt-forward, the focus is on toasty bready notes, and less on sweet caramel. This beer features low-spicing — hopefully allowing the heavily roasted pumpkin to shine through. The goal of combining a Maris Otter base with biscuit and honey malts was to produce a graham cracker like character, similar to what is found in pie crust.

Recirculating for mashout. Very nice orange color.

Recirculating for mashout. The malt bill and pumpkin produced a very nice orange color.


Size: 2.75 gal
Efficiency: 70%
Attenuation: 72.0% (projected)

Original Gravity: 1.086 SG (Actually hit 1.077 due to pour efficiency)
Terminal Gravity: 1.024 SG (projected)
Color: 16.26 SRM
Alcohol: 8.2% ABV (projected)
Bitterness: 27.9 (projected)

6.25 lb (65.4%) Maris Otter (Crisp)
1.3125 lb (13.7%) Munich TYPE II (Weyermann)
8 oz (5.2%) Biscuit Malt (Dingeman)
8 oz (5.2%) Flaked Oats (Briess)
6 oz (3.9%) Crystal 45 (Crisp)
6 oz (3.9%) Honey Malt (Gambrinus)
4 oz (2.6%) Belgian Caravienne (Belgian)
3 lb Roasted Sugar Pumpkin

8 g (100.0%) Magnum (14.5%) – added during boil, boiled 90 m
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10 m

1 ea Cinnamon (Stick) – Whirlpool 10m
.125 tsp Clove (whole) – Whirlpool 10m
.125 tsp Nutmeg (ground) – Whirlpool 10m

WYeast 1056 American Ale™
1 ea Vanilla Bean Soaked in Bourbon (1 bean in 2 oz. bourbon) – Secondary

120 °F – 5m (Beta Glucan)
154 °F – 60m (Saccarification)
168 °F – 10m (Mashout)

Yeast Starter:
Final Volume into Fermenter = 2.25 Gallons
Yeast Required = 132  billion (per Mr. Malty)
Yeast Production Date: 8/16/13
Yeast Starter = 1L @ 1.040 on stir plate (per Mr. Malty) =  4 1/8oz. DME

1. Chill to 60* F and keep at 62* F until activity slows (1 week+).
2. Raise temp to 70*F 2 days
3. Crash to 32*F 5 days

From the Cellar: 2010 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

2010 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

2010 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot was one of the beers that originally showed me the interesting evolution a well-crafted beer goes through as it ages. When fresh, Bigfoot is brash and hoppy, making no excuses for its intense bitterness, citrusy hops, and big alcohol. As it ages, the hops become more integrated and nuanced while allowing the complex malt to sing. The interplay of slow micro-oxidation with the malt and alcohol begins to create wonderful fruit and sherry-like notes that turn this beer into something very different than its fresh self. Straight off the packaging line, or with a couple years age, this is a delicious beer. Drink some fresh, but stash away a few to drink slowly and see what time can do to a well-crafted beer such as this.

Availability: Winter
Bottled: 2010
Alcohol: 9.6% ABV

Commercial Description from Website:

Our award-winning barleywine boasts a dense, fruity bouquet, an intense flavor palate and a deep reddish-brown color. Its big maltiness is superbly balanced by a wonderfully bittersweet hoppiness.

Tasting Notes:

Aroma: Big rich malt hits you first–reminiscent of thick dark caramel, molasses, biscuits, and toasted bread crust. There is a lot of fruit in here as well: prunes, light apricot, and a hint of lychee. The aroma is heavy and complex with plenty of oxidized sherry-like notes. Very little alcohol is apparent as are a hint of piney hops. 11 / 12

Appearance: Hazy somewhat muddy brown color with some rust-like hues. Upon pouring, a tightly bubbled tan head forms that persists until the end–quite impressive for a high alcohol beer. 3 / 3

Flavor: The flavor follows the aroma with superb rich malt and sherry-like flavors. There are more hops apparent in the flavor, but they are a shadow of their former self with some pine-needle like and slightly citrusy flavors. The hops are very apparent in the firm bitterness that is present. 17 / 20

Mouth Feel: This beer has a big sticky mouth feel that finishes just on the sweet-side of dry due to the big bitterness still present in the beer. 4 / 5

Overall Impression: This beer manages to be complex in different ways at both a young and well-aged stage in its life. At either age, it is not a subtle beer. The flavors are intense, the alcohol is big, and the overall impression makes you want to sit back and take your time sipping and dissecting the layers of flavor present in the beer. This is truly the best example of an American Barley Wine that I can think of. 10 / 10

Score: 45 / 50 (Outstanding)

Note: Evaluation done according to BJCP Scoring System. This beer was reviewed as a Category 19c. American Barley Wine.