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.

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!