The end of March is imminent, and so comes the season when the country fixes its collective gaze upon NCAA college basketball. This year, however, it seems pointless to devote too much time and effort to the annual sports phenomenon. That’s because Kentucky, undefeated throughout the season, currently with 37 consecutive victories, dominates the draw. Last night the team doubled the score of its respectable opponent, throttling West Virginia by a 38-point margin in the round of sixteen. Several nights earlier, the Brooklyn-based gypsy brewing team of Grimm Artisanal Ales released their Double Negative; it’s a stout aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and so well pedigreed to be our beer of the week. Since we can’t dedicate this one to the boys on the floor — most of them are under drinking age — I propose a toast, instead, to the stubborn folks who think any other team stands a chance. They’re going to need a stiff drink of reality.
As revered as the Bluegrass State is when it comes to collegiate hoops, it is equally gifted, of course, in the game of bourbon. So magical is the whiskey here that the barrels it’s emptied from continue to impart wondrous flavor upon any subsequent liquid aged within them. As a result, bourbon-barrel-aged beers are highly coveted in the craft scene. But they’re hardly all created equal. If a base beer is suspect as it enters the vessel, no amount of time spent in used oak is going to make the end product world-class.
Happily, husband-and-wife team Joe and Lauren Grimm landed upon a robust, unexpectedly bitter imperial stout as the foundation of their newest beer. It offers the depth of flavor — coffee notes, dark chocolate — that typically benefits from a warm shroud of Kentucky whiskey. To round out Double Negative, they sourced barrels from Heaven Hill, a bourbon known for its gritty, corn-induced sweetness. These tones are subdued by the strength of all that jet-black stout injected into the cask, but they still hover in the background, faintly disguised as honey and vanilla.
Taking center court is the malt bill of the beer itself. A bitter blast of espresso-like roast holds the finish, almost as dominant as Kentucky Wildcats basketball. At 10.2 percent alcohol, the beer spent just the right amount of time in barrel to mute its residual sugars without overplaying that often dreaded boozy heat. Consequently, Double Negative offers superior drinkability. After polishing off a 22-ounce bomber, it will make even the most one-sided sporting contest exciting to watch.
March Madness represents a crowded field of contenders and Grimm’s new beer enters a similarly dense market of bourbon-barrel-aged craft beer. But like Kentucky basketball, Double Negative is a force to be reckoned with. If you didn’t already revere the Bluegrass State, this one could make you a believer. Look for the limited release on shelves at craft bottle shops across the city. It might be gone before the Final Four.