A Louisville brewer making some dark beer aged in barrels has to involve bourbon, right? Maybe that’s what made me stop and look twice at Against the Grain Brewery’s Gnight Ryder. (A pop culture pun and some colorful purple labeling probably didn’t hurt, either.) Rather than relying on the Bluegrass State’s most famous spirit, Against the Grain opted to put this imperial black ale into red wine barrels. The results are memorable enough that you’ll soon be telling any beer-loving friends who will listen that this brewer sends its beer to 40-plus states.
Appearance and Aroma
Gnight Ryder looks as slick as the talking car more commonly associated with the name. Though it’s been aged, this beer appears to be dark, dark, dark brown—just shy of pure black. It has a slight tan head, too, giving off an overall aesthetic that’s perhaps not too far off from an expertly crafted espresso. Drinkers won’t mistake anything associated with Gnight Ryder for coffee, though. Heavy notes of fragrant red wine (maybe pinot noir) mix with the slightest hint of beer bitterness to greet any noses approaching the glass.
Gnight Ryder may be early ‘80s Hasselhoff levels of smooth.”
All elements of this beer’s first impression—high ABV (9.4%), dark coloring, and indicators like “imperial black ale” and “barrel-aged” on the label—suggest a heavy, imposing drink. Nothing can be further from the truth. Forgive me, but Gnight Ryder may be early ‘80s Hasselhoff levels of smooth. The red wine barrel aging seems to have mellowed the burlier aspects of an imperial black ale. Wine tones again get center stage, this time on the tongue, with bits of raspberry and earthiness coming after. As each sip finishes, Gnight Ryder reminds you this beer packs a lot of booze, but it’s never overwhelming.
Against the Grain presents Gnight Ryder as something different. “This imperial black ale is interred in red wine barrels,” the label explains. “[It] emerges unrecognizable.” The result will certainly appeal to folks who’d never think of choosing the style. I don’t think the toned-down bitterness will alienate imperial black ale fans either, because this beer still offers big, bold flavors—they just happen to be wine-soaked. Gnight Ryder also offers a fascinating alternative for the next time you’re tasked with picking up a red for a dinner party.