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Precursor from 10 Barrel: 2011 Small Batch Series 

Bourbon-barrel conditioned Imperial Red Ale? Yes please.

The latest special release from the fellers at 10 Barrel Brewing Company, which received a hearty thumbs-up from everyone here in editorial, is now available for purchase. Precursor Imperial Red Ale—they only made 2,600 of 'em!

Finding the delicious 10%, 85 IBU beer won't be easy, though. Discover the precious few at 10 Barrel, Newport Market and Whole Foods ($10) .

So how was it, exactly? Pretty damn good. Its bourbon scent is noticeable, which makes sense because the brew has been sitting in bourbon barrels for the last eight months, but it doesn't overpower the beer.

Actually, we found this beer to not only be quite complex, but also very drinkable—surprising for such a high-alcohol brew. Neither syrupy sweet nor overly bitter, the hop presence and heavy malt was appreciated, but not overdone.

Also of note: Each bottle was corked and labeled by hand. All 2,600 of them (we enjoyed #332, which was handwritten in black ink on our bottle).

Here's what head brewer Jimmy Seifrit had to say about the limited release:

The malt is the backbone of this beer. It was created to support both the hops and barrel aging. It was the same in both batches. We used pilsner malt as the base to deliver a deliberate and contrite toasted bread malt base that would allow the other malts to shine. The use of light and dark caramel malts deliver a blend of soft and burnt caramel notes respectably. The acidulated malt was used to broaden the flavor across the tongue and to make sure the malt flavor was not to syrupy.

Precursor Batch #1
The first batch was designed to go into barrels. Hence we only used hops in the kettle and not in conditioning. We hopped it with Galena, Centennial, Northern Brewer, and Cascade to deliver a bitter orange and grapefruit flavor in the beer. The lack of cold side hops allowed for the bourbon, oak, and vanilla notes from the barrels to thrive. We let this beer reside in Heavenly Hills bourbon barrels for eight months to develop these.

Precursor Batch #2
The second batch was designed to complement the barrel aging by balancing off with hop aroma and flavor. We deliver this with a heavy helping of late hopping in the kettle and whirlpool (no aroma lost in the boil) and dry hopping in the conditioning tank. This accentuated the aromas that were delivered by the same hops in the first batch but were now accompanied by Calypso, Zythos, and Bravo. The combination drove the bitter orange and grapefruit notes to the nose but also added a pungent floralness to it.

The toughest part of this beer was probably the blend. The issue here was to deliver all the robustness of the bourbon, malt, and hops but with each being in perfect harmony with the other. It was a long night but we ended up with a blend of 54% barrel aged to 46% super hopped to make sure that all parties were present. We feel we achieved a depth of complexity through this process that keeps the consumer intrigued by curiosity until the bottle is finished.

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