Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mini Stout Roundup: If It's Brown, Drink It Down; If It's Black, Knock One Back

Well, it's October, truly one of my favorite months of the year.  Two major eating holidays and three major drinking holidays are just ahead of us, in addition to some delightful fall foilage.  Ahem...'foliage'. Tonight's forecast calls for frost, which for me is a mixed blessing; although the wave of cold will surely destroy any and all allergens and the majority of the hornet population, it also is a harbinger of snowy days ahead.  There's a delightful nip in the air, a welcome change from the oppressive humidity of this summer, but soon this 'nip' will turn into coldness of the nut-freezing variety, so I'm going to enjoy it while I can.  And by 'enjoy' I mean drink.  Heartily.

Keeping in line with my seasonal drinking schedule, fall-winter is the time of year for bocks, pumpkin brews and stouts/porters.  Since so much of my drinking relies upon the mercy of the LCBO, I'm going to kick off the fall drinking season with two new stout additions.   Both of these came out only a few days ago (at least to the KW liquor stores anyhow), so naturally I'm super pumped to try them.   Not all LCBOs will have the entire fall lineup at any given time, so for the more dedicated beer geek, it sometimes involves trips to multiple locations.  Generally speaking, if I'm anywhere near an LCBO, I usually pop in to check things out.   Fortunately this weekend I managed to luck out. 

Here goes:

Beer: Dark Star Espresso Stout
Brewery: Dark Star Brewing (West Sussex, UK)
Type: flavoured stout
ABV: 4.6%

A great little label that reads almost like a charity concert poster, listing all the ingredients and attributes right on the front of the bottle.  A bit strange, but somehow it works.  Haven't heard much from Dark Star, but from the looks of things on Beer Advocate, these guys put out some damned fine brews.  I'm a big fan of espresso coffee, so this brew seems right up my alley.  Hopefully the folks at Dark Star did things up right and proper!

Poured into a Chimay snifter. Dark brown, nearly black in colour - looks a great deal like black coffee.  Sturdy tan head that does a ring around the glass throughout the tasting.  A few spots of lacing here and there.

Nose is unmistakably that of cold coffee, to the point whereby a blindfolded person offered a whiff would identify the drink as coffee, rather than beer. A touch of caramel and hops in there as well.

The taste opens with a huge blast of strong, cold coffee to start, with notes of nutmeg and fruit kicking around as well. Roasted malts provide a backbone. The finish isn't quite as good, however; a touch too weak, almost like weak coffee.  To truly be an outsanding brew, the whole thing needed a heartier flavor blast to compliment the bold coffee entry. That being said, I am still certainly enjoying it.

If this beer has one definitive fault (at least in bottled form) it is this: far too thin.  A coffee brew such as this deserves a rich and hearty body: otherwise, it feels more like I'm drinking cold alcoholized weak coffee, which isn't what I was going for. Still, the carbonation was more than sufficient to keep things together.

This is truly a beer that did exactly what it set out to do, and did it fairly well.  It could have been more robust, and could have possessed more body, but still it tasted pretty good. I'm not sure if I'll pick up more than a couple of these, however, but I'm certainly respectful of the effort here. I definitely plan on having one of these with breakfast this week, just cause I can.  Oddly enough, Dark Star Espresso Stout tastes so much like coffee that I'd probably get a buzz anyways.   After that, though, I'd probably just crash.  (Grade: B)

Beer: Southern Tier Imperial Choklat Stout
Brewery: Southern Tier (Lakewood, NY)
Type: Double Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.5%

Putting Southern Tiers brews into regular rotation has been one thing the LCBO has certainly done right.  This New York brewer has put forward some remarkable brews from a variety of different beer genres.  I've given mad Beer Den love to their IPA and Raspberry Porter before.  Like many a great craft brewery, Southern Tier also delights in experimentation, offering up unique beers that push the boundaries of what one could potentially brew.  Last year, I had the pleasure of trying their Creme Brulee Stout, a stout that, naturally, tasted a great deal like a creme brulee.  Never tasted anything quite like it.  To be fair, it's not something I'll probably get again, but I certainly enjoyed trying it.  Choklat is another of these brews that, however well made, I probably won't pick up too often, save for on special occasions when I feel like sharing an after-dinner dessert beer with folks.   I'm happy to try it, but it's just not necessarily a flavour of beer I want regularly, especially on nights when I feel like getting silly.

Poured into a Duvel chalice. An inky black brew (even when held to the light, all I can detect is black), with a thin tan head that dissolves into a fine ring. Some lacing when I swirl the brew around a bit.

Nose is rich, milky chocolate, very delectable.  Almost like chocolate syrup or an Aero Bar. Hard to detect anything else, but frankly, I don't care. The chocolate smells that damned good.

Despite such a sweet-smelling nose (and bearing in mind the super-sweet concoction of their Creme Brulee stout), I was surprised as to how sharp the chocolate was in this brew. Not bitter, mind you, but certainly not sweet milk chocolate.  Much more in tune with the Mexican chocolate featured on the label.  Probably something around the 65%-80% cocoa range.  Big flavor burst here of both the chocolate and some coffee/roasted malts, with delightful warming alcohol taste to the finish.  My mouth is well-coated in bitter chocolaty goodness, which lingers for quite some time. A great evening brew for the first frost of the season!

Rich and hearty, Choklat has a thick, velvety mouthfeel, with light but detectable carbonation.   Certainly a slow sipping beer.

Well worth the pickup, despite the price (nearly ten bucks for a 650mL bottle).  A great stout, neither too bitter nor too cloyingly sweet.  A heartier, stronger version of Young's Double Chocolate Stout, to offer a bit of perspective.  Certainly a well-made brew, although not one I'd return to regularly. Despite the delicious flavors here, I'm having a bit of trouble finishing Choklat because it is so incredibly rich. I'd advise that folks share a bottle after dinner with friends, because an entire bottle is pretty heavy for one person.  

Great work by Southern Tier. (Grade: A-)

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