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Crystal Lake Brewing Boathouse Reserve 2019 Series Preview

Crystal Lake Brewing Boathouse Reserve

Fresh off its Silver Medal at the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer (FoBAB) for its Rye Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, Crystal Lake Brewing has unveiled its 2019 Boathouse Reserve barrel-aged series, which will formally be released on Saturday, November 23. Those looking to attend the release party can register with Crystal Lake  — note that only 120 spots are available for the party.

Unique to Crystal Lake Brewing, each year’s release involves different barrels for which to age the beer. What remains consistent is the high quality, as the brewery has moved into the ranks of one of Chicagoland’s best strong barrel-aged brewing programs. Crystal Lake Brewing invited several media outlets and a host of industry folks to taste this year’s releases along with several special items.

Rye Barrel Aged (’18 & ’19)

2019 Imperial Stout aged in Heaven Hill Rye barrels and the 2018 FoBAB Silver-Medal-Winning Imperial stout aged in Bulleit Rye & Jim Beam barrels.

From its Slalom King Rye IPA to winning a medal at FoBAB, it’s growing apparent that Crystal Lake has grown into a go-to brewery for rye lovers. Though both years’ versions are unique, the balance between the earthy-spiced notes of the rye with the naturally sweet nature of the Imperial Stout results in a wonderfully composed beer.

The 2019 version offers a profoundly dark chocolate flavor without remotely feeling like a pastry stout, partly because any perceived sweetness gets balanced by the rye and coffee notes, along with a hint of oak — sublime. The 2018 version, aged one year, offered a bit more booziness (notably as it warmed) and overall was a tad sweeter.

What proved fascinating was enjoying both beers side-by-side. One could tell that the different whiskey barrels resulted in diverse flavors, which is no surprise for any cocktail lover. And, although I thoroughly enjoyed the 2018 (both fresh and aged), I found the 2019 had slightly better balance and flavor — an improvement on a FoBAB winner.

The 2019 Boathouse Reserve Rye will be available to the public on Saturday, November 23.

Crystal Lake Brewing Boathouse Reserve Rye BA
Crystal Lake Brewing Boathouse Reserve Rye BA (Photo: Mathew Powers)

(Read: Staff Picks | The Festival of Barrel-Aged Beer’s (FoBAB) Best of the Best)

Bourbon Barrel-Aged

The Imperial Stout, aged in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels, presented as a well-executed, traditional and sophisticated BBA Stout with a velvety smooth texture and a medium (perfect) body.

The stout provided notes of caramel, dark chocolate, and a bit of molasses while the barrel provided a kiss of woodiness along with a gorgeous boozy bourbon flavor (without appearing harsh or “hot”). And, as with most BBA, drinking it a bit on the chilly side gives one less booziness than if warmed. But, if you are like me, let it warm and enjoy its elegance.

The 2019 Boathouse Reserve BBA will be available to the public on November 23

Crystal Lake Brewing Boathouse Reserve 2019 BBA
Crystal Lake Brewing Boathouse Reserve 2019 Four Roses BBA Imperial Stout (Photo: Mathew Powers)

(Read: Chicago’s Luna Bay Booch Co. Looks to Make its Mark in Busy Craft Beer Market)


Barleywine (’16 & ’19)

As of the time of tasting, the 2019 Barleywine had not yet been fully carbonated. Nonetheless, tasting the still raw and unfinished Barleywine left this writer impressed. One gets a lovely does of dark fruit notes along with bourbon and oak, along with a kiss of spice. It’s been a season of terrific Barleywines across Chicagoland, and this belonged in the team picture.

Should you age the Barleywine? Let’s examine the 2016 version: 

It’s no surprise that 2016 version, with three years of aging, walked the fine line between spirit and beer. Regardless of how one chooses to define it, the flavors remained robust with plenty of dark fruit notes like its fresh, 2019 sibling. But, the 2016 had one noticeable, pleasing difference that can be described in one word: smooooooooooth. So, if you grab some 2019, don’t be afraid to age it!

The 2019 Boathouse Reserve Barleywine will be available to the public on November 23

Crystal Lake Brewing Boathouse Reserve Barleywine
Crystal Lake Brewing Boathouse Reserve Barleywine (Photo: Mathew Powers)

Special Items, which may arrive from time to time at the taproom.

2019 Rye BA with coffee & chocolate adjuncts

This infusion is abound in chocolate notes — the stout feels rich and almost decadent. However, with the coffee and rye, it never feels like an over-the-top pastry. The flavors found in the base beer seem enhanced more than masked, and that’s easy to appreciate.

Finishing with a Saison

Did you know that you can drink Crystal Lake beers in the posh Signature Room atop the John Hancock center? The two establishments even collaborated on a beer this past summer. It speaks to Crystal Lake’s ability to brew an array of styles, including ones that require plenty of finesse.

The vintage Saison, aged in California Chardonnay and French Cabernet Barrels, may very well have been the beer of the night. Full of fragrant esters, farmhouse flavors and a little acidity, the remarkable balance resulted in one delicious brew. One could imagine drinking the Saison on a French villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, or even at home on Thanksgiving. Then again, it was just fine sharing it with my fellow beer writers and friends on a cold November night in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

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