Craft beer’s penchant for experimentation is hitting even the oldest breweries, and Salzburg, Austria’s Stiegl is no exception. The brewery, founded in 1492, has added barrel-aging to their repertoire with a new Vintage series. The fourth such creation, Ferdinand, is an Imperial Alt aged for four months in barrels that first held cognac and then rum, giving an intensely deep, rich, and sweetened vibe. Named after Ferdinand I, the House of Habsburg, archduke of Austria and king of Bohemia, Croatia, and Hungary.
If there’s one key rule to a barrel-aged beer, it’s not to overdo it. Beer tastes great, as do many of the liquors previously held in said barrels. However, that doesn’t always mean it’s going to be a hit to combine them. Beer with sugary hits of rum or cognac, or subtle oaken notes from a whiskey barrel, can give a powerful new impression but, just as often, it gets wiped out by a boozy bouquet that destroys any nuance of the base beer. In Ferdinand, Stiegl succeeds in the alcohol to beer balance, but the rum and cognac sweetness is clearly the dominant profile of an otherwise relaxing beer.
It pours a golden-orange hue with a sandy complexion before that big, rich cognac nose hits. The toffee element of the cognac dominates the profile with a hint of sweet butterscotch and it feels over-barreled at first. While the brewery adheres to the Reinheitsgebot, the barrel here is a clear fifth ingredient that removes some of the “purity” of the beer, and the result is more cognac than barley. That changes, though, when the beer warms closer to 50 degrees.
When warmer, a peppery malt pops through and gives it a pleasing and clean finish but with a honeysweet mouthfeel. Ultimately, the beer is malt forward with toffee and caramel dominating the experience. Like a good cognac, it’s a sweeter, decadent beverage best suited to after dinner with something rich.
City: Salzburg, Austria
Availability: 750 ml bottles (2,000 bottles total in IL, WI, MI, IN, OH, MN, IA, MO, AK, and FL)