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.

Cochon 555 Comes to NYC

Finding a foodie that is into pork is kind of like spotting a pair of skinny jeans in Williamsburg. Both can exist without the other, but when coupled, an easy synergy arises. It’s natural and comfortable. The popular ramblings of foodie gurus like Bourdain and Chang have placed the pig on a pedestal—and spawned more than a handful of pig-related tattoos. In spite of all that, I must admit that I, too, have consumed the pork-flavored Kool-Aid. Case in point, the plethora of pork posts I’ve written over the past year. It’s becoming a bit of a ‘thing’ for me so deciding whether or not to attend the pork-centric Cochon 555 was a no-brainer.


Participating Chefs (L-R): Frank Langello (Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca), Michael Toscano (Perla), Lauren Hirschberg (Craftbar), Seamus Mullen (Tertulia), and David Standridge (Market Table)

What is Cochon 555?

Cochon 555’s website bills itself as:

A one-of-a-kind traveling culinary competition and tasting event – five chefs, five pigs, five winemakers – to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.

Promote is the key word and their approach isn’t all that different from what you’d see from a music label promoting the next big thing. Just substitute “rock star” with “rock star chef.” Promoting sustainable farming is a lofty goal, but a bit of a red herring in this case. At the end of the day, this is a for-profit venture with a steep price. This event is really about promoting some kick-ass restaurants and other delicious products (while making a buck) by giving attendees the opportunity to try high-end food and drink and experiment with their own pairings all within a convivial festival format. Appreciating both parts of the equation sets the table for a good time.

What Worked

Walking into the space, there was an energy in the air. You could tell that people were excited to be there. While the floor was very crowded, there was a precious handful of standing tables and small, out-of-the-way niches where you could stow away and focus on the star of the event. The restaurants on display were well-chosen and diverse, offering a spectrum of food and a variety of styles. The flow of the evening was smooth — differing from other festivals by offering a variety of scheduled events throughout the evening, keeping things fresh.


Why yes, they did butcher an entire pig on the festival floor. The cuts were then individually auctioned off to benefit the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). There was something kinda bad-ass watching Sara Bigelow from The Meathook methodically break down an entire pig.

What Didn’t Work

Criticism is an important part of my writing and Cochon 555 left me with a number of critiques. I don’t like to dwell on the negatives, but when people are spending $125 for a general admission ticket ($200 for a VIP ticket), the bar is raised and things should be near flawless.

First off, it was crowded. Fighting your way through a sea of people only to be greeted by another wait to get food was a big letdown. I understand the need for a swanky event to have an equally swanky venue (Cochon 555 NYC was hosted at the Ritz-Carlton). Perhaps moving to a less expensive and more spacious venue would improve this without taking anything away from the event’s reputation. Even more disappointing is coming to a table with no food. Service for the majority of restaurants ended early — running out of food at an event of this caliber is unacceptable. Additionally, of the menus posted by each restaurant, I was only able to try about half of the dishes listed.

The majority of the pork dishes I tasted left me, quite frankly, a bit underwhelmed. The number of outrageously salty dishes was astonishing. Nearly all the pork felt overly fussy, complicated, and intense (and not always in a good way). I understand the urge to migrate towards bold flavors, but much of the food sacrificed nuance in the name of extremity. The pornographic amounts of truffle being thrown about was not only excessive, but felt somewhat desperate. In the end, two of my three favorite bites were swine-free.

What I was Looking For

Criticism aside, coming into this event, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to get out of it. Most of the culinary world (including this event) is enamored with pairing food and wine, and rightfully so. It’s easy. Wine’s typically dry nature, acidity, and tannic content make pairing it with food easy. A bit more challenging, and equally rewarding, is pairing food and beer. I’ve always thought that the diversity within beer style taxonomy offers an amazing spectrum of pairing opportunities. Goose Island’s choice to prominently sponsor a food event that mentions ‘wine’ in it’s tagline (and not beer) seemed a bit idiosyncratic. Talking with their representatives and learning about their goal of promoting beer and food helped resolve this seemingly odd match of brand and event.

Over the course of the evening, I ate and drank in a manner that would cause Elvis to blush. At the end of the night, three pairings stuck in my mind.

Pairing #1: Beef Tartare with Lolita


Rib Eye Tartare with Truffle on Pork Cracklin’ from Del Posto – Paired with Lolita. My first bite of the night, and one of the best. The aged rib eye tartare had a sweetness and subtle fruitiness that was complementary to the sour (but not puckering) Lolita. Lolita has a big ripe raspberry nose with a mildly earthy component that worked really well with the truffle. Putting the tartare on a crispy pork cracklin’ was an excellent textural counterpoint to the beef.

Pairing #2: Pork Paella with Matilda


Paella de Cerdo From Tertulia – Paired with Matilda. Yes, this was an intensely salty dish. Somehow though, the intensely salty pork worked with the nice char on the outside of the meat, and was kept in reign when paired with Matilda. The best thing about Matilda is that it features a pleasant Belgian yeast profile while retaining a nice round body and malt component. The maillard-heavy toasted malt flavors worked really well with the charred pork. The pork was quite fatty and decadent, which the effervescent nature of Matilda cleaned up with ease. The almost dirty-rice-esque ‘paella’ was loaded with bits of organ meat giving it a mineral-rich character that worked well with the peppery yeast character in the beer. A touch more dryness in the beer would have made the pairing even better.

Pairing #3: Duck Charcuterie with Sofie


Duck Charcuterie (Torchone de Foie Gras, Rillete, Salami, Smoked Breast)  from Hudson Valley Foie Gras – Paired with Sofie. I have a soft spot for duck, especially duck charcuterie. The products offered up from Hudson Valley Foie Gras were top notch and I especially enjoyed the Foie Gras. Smeared on a simple slice of baguette and washed down with Sofie, the pairing was divine. Sofie, with it’s somewhat austere dryness and prickly carbonation, cut through the fatty foie like a knife, daring you to consume another bite. The earthy and luscious liver worked extremely well with the slightly fruity and somewhat peppery yeast character in the beer. The malt in Sophie is minimal, but has a subtle pilsner malt sweetness that complemented the inherent sweetness in the foie without dominating it.

Cheers to Goose Island

I would be remiss to not thank Goose Island for the complementary media badges they offered my wife and I enabling us to attend the event. Goose Island has taken a lot of flack in the past couple years after they were purchased by AB InBev. I tend to withhold judegment to their beer and their actions. The beers they brought to the event were well made and tasty. Equally as impressive was what appeared to be a genuine want to elevate food and beer pairings to the point that they are on par with wine in the culinary circles.

I would be remiss to not thank Goose Island for the complimentary media badges they offered my wife and myself allowing us to attend the event. Goose Island has taken a lot of flack in the past couple of years following their purchase by AB InBev. I tend to limit my judgment to their beer and their actions in regard to their customers and brewing peers. The beers they brought to the event were well-made and tasty. Equally as impressive was what appeared to be a genuine eagerness to elevate food and beer pairings to the point that they are on par with wine in the culinary circles.

Multi-knife hip holster, one super-enthusiastic dude, and a Colicchio photo bomb all in one photo.

A multi-knife hip-holstered butcher, a dude really digging said butchery, and a Tom Colicchio cameo all in one. Photo by Jessie Quan.

Gratuitous food porn outtakes.

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)

Hipster Ribs Paired with Lolita

Braised Short Ribs, Cucumber Salad, and Goose Island Lolita

Sweet, salty, and savory

Taking short ribs–a tough cut of meat full of connective tissue and fat–searing it and then slowly braising it in beer (or other liquid) can do amazing things. The Belgians do it with their Carbonade as do the French with their Beef Bourguignon. The result is a succulent, flavorful piece of meat that falls off the bone. The fat renders out of the meat, leaving behind some of the most tender morsels you can hope for. For this recipe, I’ve introduced an Asian-esque marinade for the short ribs prior to braising and then served it with a fresh cucumber salad and steamed rice. I then paired it all with Lolita from Goose Island.

The Process (or recipe, if you like)

Cooking from a recipe is not my style. Unless I’m baking and producing some sort of preserved or cured product, I rarely follow a recipe. Instead, I’m a firm believer in understanding the techniques (and the reasoning behind them), using the flavors I like, and tasting during prep to achieve these flavors. This recipe starts by marinating the short ribs for several hours in a combination of soy, rice vinegar, mirin, sugar, ginger, garlic, chili paste, and a touch of sesame oil.  After several hours of marinating, preheat the oven to 300° F and begin heating some oil in a heavy skillet (that has a lid). Once the oil is very hot, sear each short rib (you may need to do it in batches) on all sides. Remove the ribs and then deglaze in the pan with about 12 oz. of beer. I used PBR because its neutral character wouldn’t conflict with the already bright flavors in the marinade. Add the ribs back to the pan and place in the oven (covered) for about 3 hours or until fork tender. For the last 30 minutes of cooking, remove the lid and baste every 5 minutes with the braising liquid. Serve with steamed rice and cucumber salad. The cucumber salad was quick-pickled (for about 5 hours) in a mixture of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar.

Short Ribs Paired with Goose Islane Lolita

Sweet, savory, salty– all rolled into one

So, was it any good?

'The Homebrew Wife' Approves

Looks like The Homebrewer’s Wife approves

Individually, both the plate of food and the beer were killer. The high point of the pairing was how the acidity of Lolita helped cleanse the palate and wash away some of the heavy fatty aspects of the short ribs. Additionally, the beer had an almost wine-like character and hint of oak tannin that also helped balance the richness of the meat.  The biggest issue was that the heavy raspberry flavor in the beer clashed with some of the umami-like beef flavors in the ribs.  Additionally, the cucumber salad provided a nice acidic counterpoint to the rich beef, making the acidity of the beer redundant and unnecessary.