Beer Reviews

Big Willy

Big Willy (11.4% | 22 IBU) is our Wee Heavy Ale Wee Willy aged in bourbon barrels for 12 months. This behemoth of a brew debuted in 2017, resonating strongly with barrel aged devotees. A gentle giant, Big Willy is a limited, seasonal offering available in bottles and on draft.

Reviews are done by Jim Matt, our Chief Science Officer, who is also a veteran FoBAB judge, GABF judge, and BJCP Master judge.

Malts: Maris Otter, Honey Malt, Crystal Rye, Chocolate Wheat, Roasted Barley

Hops: Magnum, Glacier

Big Willy is our Wee Heavy Ale Wee Willy aged in bourbon barrels for 12 months. Talk about what happens in that wooden vessel over the course of a year. 

As time goes on, the beer extracts more barrel character out of the vessel. This includes flavors imparted by the wood itself (vanilla, butterscotch, raw wood flavor, toast), as well as flavor imparted by the spirit (bourbon, a little booze). The beer also will lightly oxidize, enhancing the caramel and toffee notes.

Talk about the history of the Wee Heavy Style, namely its Scottish roots.

Scotland has a long history of brewing. Historically the beers have been relatively low strength beers due to the tax laws of that era. The Wee Heavy style is much higher in alcohol (>7%) than most of the other Scottish style ales. These beers were often brewed on equipment that facilitated kettle caramelization via various means, and that is a characteristic of the style that remains to this day.

What are the notable characteristics of this beer?

Dark, rich, alcoholic, yet balanced.

What makes you want to drink this beer?

It is that time of year for darker and stronger beers, and Big Willy fits the season perfectly.

If I dig Big Willy, what’s a beer I should try? 

Diddy Muckle is a barrel aged Wee Heavy by Sun King that is a great example of the style. Also, I like the bourbon Barrel Aged Wee Heavy by Alesmith.

Appearance: Dark brown with ruby highlights. Moderate tan head that persists. Fairly clear.

Aroma: Medium high bourbon aroma, hints of vanilla, toffee, and alcohol. No hop aroma. Medium fruity esters. Medium malt aroma. Caramel, chocolate and toast.

Taste: Medium high malt flavor, caramel, toffee, light roast and chocolate. Medium amount of sweetness mid-palate. Finishes with a bourbon kick. Some vanilla notes along with some light raw wood character.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body, low astringency, light alcohol warmth. Medium carbonation, some creaminess.

Overall: A rich, warming, full-bodied strong Scotch ale with beautiful complexity.

What foods would pair well with Big Willy?

Bananas Foster with toasted pecans (especially one heavily caramelized), or a roast leg of lamb.

Ideal glassware for Big Willy?

10-12 oz snifter glass.