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One Big Bottle: Captain Lawrence Smoke From the Oak

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[Photo: Maggie Hoffman]

Captain Lawrence Brewing Company's Smoke from the Oak series is expensive. I've heard of New York-area stores charging a hundred bucks for the most recent gift pack of three bottles, which features the brewery's Imperial Smoked Porter aged three ways: in wine barrels, rum barrels, and apple brandy barrels. Even for the $55 they're charging at my local Whole Foods, it's a bit mindboggling.

That said, these beers just may be the best accompaniment to barbecue that I can imagine.

Of the three bottles, our favorite was the wine barrel version, which is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels that previously housed Merlot and Pinot Noir. The scent is intensely fruity and smoky, like burning mesquite chips and vanilla ice cream topped with berry puree. The flavor melds equal parts cherry and smoke, with rich cocoa notes and a freshness that the other-barreled version lack.

There's a hoisin-like savoriness and a hint of peat from the smoked malt. It's remarkable how much fruit flavor is in this beer, considering that the only fruit it sees is whatever wine was left in the walls of the barrel.

This beer was incredible with the sweet molasses-rich baked beans and charred edges of steak and brisket, but we'd also love to try it with duck or lamb, too. We were impressed by this beer's balance, especially in contrast with the other bottles in the pack.

The rum barrel-aged version was deeper and slightly musty, with savory qualities that some tasters found a little overwhelming. The peat and vanilla flavors don't quite all come together, and the alcohol is a bit hotter.

The apple brandy aging elevates the porter beautifully, though some tasters found it a little on the sticky cream-soda side, and thought the alcohol could mellow out a bit. With some time in the cellar, this caramel-apple and cocoa-accented beer could be top tier, but if you're not that patient, order some barbecue and convince your local beer shop to break open a pack and sell you a bottle of the wine barrel aged Smoke From The Oak to drink tonight.

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