There are a few beers that I keep my eye out for, and this week I ran across two of them, Weyerbacher Brewing Co.’s Insanity and Heresy. I’m saving the Heresy for another time, but I couldn’t resist cracking open the Insanity. Weyerbacher markets its Blithering Idiot English barleywine year round, but every February the brewery releases some that it has been aging in bourbon barrels as the Insanity.
Weyerbacher got its start in a livery stable in Easton, Pa., back in 1995. The proprietors, Dan and Sue Weirback, were inspired to turn their homebrewing hobby into a career during a tour of the Long Trail Brewery while on vacation in Vermont. After an initial fumble with low-gravity pale ales, Weyerbacher found its legs making big beers like barleywines and Russian imperial stouts. The operation was moved to a more modern facility in 2001 and expanded again in 2005 to a 25-barrel brewhouse purchased from Victory Brewing Co.
The beer poured a beautiful, clear red-brown color with some beautiful golden highlights. The head was almost nonexistent, with a single layer of pale white bubbles forming, even with a fairly vigorous pour. The head retention was poor, with almost all the foam disappearing within minutes and no lacing at all. The aroma was a combination of light sweet vanilla and dark malts, which reminded me of a brown ale or a bock with some grape notes, which was somewhat odd. There were hints of bitterness in the aroma, too, but no noticeable hop aroma. The body was moderately thick with very low carbonation to thin it out. This resulted in a fairly thick mouthfeel overall, but it didn’t linger like some other heavy beers.
The taste was very malt focused, again with some melanoidin flavor like a brown ale or bock. The flavor had an interesting cherry flavor up front, which actually seemed slightly medicinal to me, but that faded into a nice toffee taste on the finish. Underlying everything was the wood flavor, which actually came off, well, woody with some vanilla instead of just the straight vanilla that I expected. It actually reminded me a tiny bit of the Palo Santo wood that Dogfish Head uses in its Palo Santo Marron. One thing that seemed to be missing was the hop bitterness; this actually seemed like a better stock ale than a barleywine.
Overall I enjoyed this beer, but it takes some getting used to. It’s big and sweet, without much hop character to balance it, which may underwhelm some people. The key is to pair it with something that will make it shine, something with a bit of a bite to it. I personally like Granny Smith apples and very sharp cheddar cheeses, but I actually think something with a lot of lemon would go well with it, too. That being said, it’s a beer that requires me to be in the right mood to sit down and enjoy it, as opposed to a light session beer that I can drink all day long.