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[Photo: Maggie Hoffman]

This double-strength version of Firestone Walker's Double Barrel Ale pours maple-syrup brown, and smells a bit mapley as well—deeply rich and sweet with hints of caramel corn and bourbon. With twice as much malt and hops as the original DBA recipe, this Imperial Special Bitter was partially fermented in oak barrels and then aged for a year in those barrels as well as some retired bourbon barrels.

Though the first sip seems as sweet as you'd expect from the scent, there's a bitter layer too that holds the sugar in check. (Firestone Walker always manages to get their beers in balance, and though this one is heady, heavy stuff, it's not way out of line with their other brews.)

You'll notice a little smoke and a little vanilla from the barrels—it's as if bread pudding with whiskey sauce has been recreated in beer form. It's an obvious match for creme brulee, but don't be afraid of opening it earlier in the evening and serving it with a savory dish. Try pork belly or roasted goose, a salad with pecans and blue cheese, or go with Peking duck—yes, you can make that at home.

Have you tried this limited release from Firestone Walker? What did you think?

Sample provided for review consideration.

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is the editor of Serious Eats: Drinks. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.

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