Fort Collins Brewery – Double Chocolate Stout

fcdcs.jpegI love a Chocolate Stout, so a Double Chocolate Stout sounds absolutely, doubly delicious to me. I recently reviewed the Fort Collins ‘regular’ Chocolate Stout and was really excited to try the Imperial version of the brew. If you read the “That’s a lot of stout, man” post, you’ll remember that we thought the regular version was a little thin in body and the ‘chocolate’ was really more like a hint, at best. Maybe the Imperial version would be that rich and chocolaty brew that we were hoping for the first time around – or maybe not. The pour was promising, with a thick caramel head bubbling up to about three fingers and slowly fading to a small, but deliberate quarter inch. On the nose there was a little less umph than I anticipated, but coffee notes dominated and there was a hint of earthy malt and a touch of sweetness. The first taste, however, was like being hit with a stiff coffee uppercut. Bitter, oily coffee was almost all that I tasted from start to finish, with very little else to speak of. There was a hint of alcohol, but not an overpowering amount, while the most notable exemption from the overall flavor was, um, chocolate. I thought that was the point. Maybe it’s just me, but if the name of your beer has the words ‘double’ and ‘chocolate’ in it, there should be at least a hint of some incarnation of chocolate in there somewhere, right? Basically, if the name were Double Coffee Stout it would be perfect, because that’s what it is. If you’re a fan of dark, espresso-like coffee stouts then definitely pick up this beer – you’ll love it. However, if you’re expecting something inline with a Young’s or Brooklyn Brewery double chocolate stout, don’t even bother. Overall, this beer is strikingly one-dimensional and honestly, a bit of a disappointment. Proceed with caution, and maybe a quart half and half… Cheers, ~G

3_25.png score 3.25


Sierra Nevada – Bigfoot Barleywine

bigfoot.jpgI feel like I should start by saying that Sierra Nevada is one of my favorite American breweries. Interestingly, none of their beers are truly my all out favorite in any category, but overall I really respect the quality, consistency and general coolness that defines the brand. Recently, the Anniversary Ale became my go-to Pale for everything from a burger-and-a-beer night to, well, lets-skip-the-burger-and-just-have-beer nights. Additionaly, I thought the Harvest Fresh Hop Ale was a nice effort and their flagship Pale Ale is just simple and solid. A few years ago I was in San Francisco and had a chance to try the Bigfoot barleywine on tap. Unfortunately, it was after several other beers that I had the opportunity to try, off various other taps. Let’s just say my “palette” was a little “compromised.” So when I saw that a 6-pack had appeared in my local bottle shop I felt like I had a chance to really see what the ale was all about. It would also be an interesting study since I’ve just finished a nice round of nights with the BBC barleywine which I think is a really outstanding effort. Ok, so that was a long intro – let’s get to the review.

The pour was beautiful. Minimal carbonation, a tannish thin head and a bold, garnet-colored body looked perfect as it hit the glass. I could tell as I brought it to my nose that this would be a different animal (terrible bigfoot reference) than the BBC, as a pronounced hop aroma came shooting off the top like it was a big IPA. Interesting… The first sip confirmed that this was, in fact, a bit of a hop-bomb. Although the hop presence was a bit of a surprise, they don’t totally dominate the flavor. Typical barleywine fruity sweetness and big candylike malts are definitely in the mix and there is a distinct presence of alcohol as well. The body feel is medium and the carbonation is appropriately minimized, but more robust than average for the style. I feel like this ale is similar to a young California cabernet in the sense that the bold, aggressive nature which makes it seem wild and unrefined in its youth are the same qualities that will eventually make it great. I mean, this *is* the 2008 vintage so what can we really expect – yet. Even with all it’s youthful angst, I really quite enjoyed drinking the Bigfoot. It’s only going to get better with age and I plan on trying one every few months for the next year or so to track the progress. The fact that it’s as good as it is right out of the shoot is going to earn some nice points from me right off the bat.

Cheers, ~G

4_25.png score 4.25

Bluegrass Brewing Company – Bearded Pat’s Barleywine

bbc_barley.jpgA few nights ago I was enjoying a Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout from the Bluegrass Brewing Company and I decided to check out their (recently re-worked) website for a gander at some of the other beers in their stable. I soon discovered that they have a winter seasonal offering called the Bearded Pat’s Barleywine. And since the Jefferson’s reserve has become a bit of a go-to stout for me recently, I thought I’d try and find a bottle somewhere in town. As luck would have it, my favorite bottle shop had a 4-pack, so I was on my way. The pour was a mid-brown with a hint of orange and the head was a nice off-white creamy color. I could smell it as it hit the glass as hints of rich caramel and fruit were present even before I took an *official* sniff. A more intentional study of the nose revealed some nutty raisin and fig overtones and a caramel candy dominance. The first sip was really the most obvious indication of the 11% abv, which soon became a non-factor in the overall scheme of the beer. The mouthfeel and carbonation were both relatively light and made the beer easy to drink. The most outstanding characteristic, however, is the terrific balance between the sweetness of the caramel and fruit notes with the bitter and thorough finish from the hops. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a ‘hoppy’ barleywine, but the pure bittering is very present on the finish and it serves the brew very well. As the beer warmed, it seemed to thicken up and improved even more. The silky and slightly oily nature on the tongue was a great compliment to the almost molasses-like character of the body. Overall, one of the most satisfying barleywines I’ve had and kudos to the brewery on this one.

4_5.png score 4.5

Cheers, ~G

Don’t call it a comeback…

I’ve been thinking about the forthcoming hop shortage and wondering what impact, other than price, it will have on American beer-making in the coming months. You could argue that the American craft brew scene has been somewhat dominated in the last few years by big hop profile beers, of which I’m a huge fan. The ingenuity and access to ingredients from all across the globe has spawned a generation of American craft brewers who are not bound by a regional or brand tradition and who certainly aren’t afraid to push the recipe envelope. It’s my opinion that American beers, much like American cars, have traditionally (with a few major exceptions) been run-of-the-mill and bland compared to the rich history and collective knowledge of European beermakers. However, right now American craft beers are, across the board, kicking ass.

But have we forgotten the art of the malt? Are we on the verge of a malty beer revolution, where we take the same reckless abandoned creative approach to our grains as we have in recent years to what we can do with our hops? Will continuous hopping during the boil, ridiculous quantities and dry-hopping just about everything give way to creative roasting, blending and grain adjuncts? As much as I love a 90-minute, Terrapin Imperial Pilsner or even a Stone IPA, I’m feeling excited about what the American Craft beermaker can do with an economicly-induced change of direction. I want a quadrupelbock, or an Imperial Brown, or maybe even a triple cervesa. I don’t know if it will happen, but I *do* know that regardless of the perceived limitations of ingredients with which to make our beer, the American craft brewer has earned the benefit of the doubt. And to me, there is no doubt that the future of American beer looks pretty damn tasty…

Cheers ~G

That’s a lot of Stout, man (part deux)

In case you missed it, this is a little series about a recent ‘Stout Night’ I shared with my buddy, Jim. We tried 11 brews in all and my / our thoughts are summarized here in this two part review. If you missed part one, scroll down a bit to read it. So without further adieu, here’s part two.

lh_ms.jpgThe saga continues with the Left Hand – Milk Stout. OK, now were rockin’. The pour was deep and black, with a rich and creamy head. On the nose was a healthy dose of chocolate malt and coffee. Since this is a Milk Stout, there was a distinct sweetness to the nose as well – a nice touch. The flavor was excellent. It had most of the creaminess and roasted malt of ‘bigger’ stouts in the Imperial variety, but the general feel of the ber was still in the medium category. This is a highly drinkable, very enjoyable stout. I’m a fan.

Next up, Lion Stout. I’m a little biased on this one because I came into this tasting knowing that I love this stout already, and shocker, it held up like a champ. Even after the sweetness of the Milk Stout, the Lion’s flavor just seemed right. From the pour, to the head, the nose and flavor all are so consistent and refined that it’s hard to find an objective part of the beer to critique. If I were going to make a stout as my signature brew I would certainly try and model it after the Lion. Plus, it’s from Sri Lanka, which is just kinda cool. All those medals proudly displayed on the label tell you all you need to know.

40412.jpgWe had a whole mess ‘o chocolate stouts to dive into, so we settled on the Fort Collins Chocolate Stout to kick us off. The nose was certainly chocolaty, but there were substantial notes of smoke and coffee in there as well. It ‘seemed’ like this was going to be a huge tasting beer. It wasn’t huge, in fact, I’d say it was kind of light. There was a medium-high carbonation, but that was ok, as it balanced the dominant smokey overtones nicely. My main critique would be the mouthfeel being a little on the light side. Although some may point to that quality as a plus, for me, the style needs to be a little on the heaver side. Overall, pleasant, but I’d like to taste a little more chocolate and have a little more body.

roguechocolatestout.jpgWe didn’t spend too much time dwelling on the lightness of the Fort Collins because there was a huge bottle of the Rogue Chocolate Stout staring us in the face. Let me say that I really like Rogue beers. They have some of my all-time favorites, so I was excited to try the Stout. Whoa, the nose on this one was certainly different. Along with all the usual suspects in a Chocolate Stout, there was a pronounced hoppy thing going on in there. The Chocolate was jumping right out of the glass, but eventually faded back into the pack as the beer warmed. The flavor was dark chocolate and cocoa, almost like there was some Hershey’s syrup in there. In fact, I think they must have added some kind of adjunct because the mocha texture was not a typical roasted malt style, but more of a beer float. The most unique characteristic about this stout was it’s bitterness. Unlike anything else we tried, this Stout was actually bitter, and I’m not sure I loved that aspect of the flavor. My guess is that they’re trying to balance all that syrupy sweetness with something bitter, but personally, I think the bitterness and the sweetness are too far away on the tongue to be complimentary. It was just kind of awkward. Overall though, I enjoyed the bold chocolate flavor and it was a nice departure from the coffee side of the spectrum.

double_chocolate_stout.jpgDid someone say chocolate? Oh yea, I did. As if there wasn’t enough chocolate going around, next up was the Young’s- Double Chocolate Stout. Double chocolate, huh? Is this an Imperial Chocolate then? Maybe a doppelchoc? OK, now I’m just entertaining myself. Back to the beer. From the first sip I was really into this beer. It was creamy and the carbonation was perfectly suited for the smooth mouthfeel. The chocolate seemed a little more refined – like a fine European dark – and made the beer lean a little more toward the cappuccino side of the spectrum. Also, although it wasn’t *twice* as chocolaty as the other brews, it was super silky and smooth. Highly drinkable.

brooklyn_stout.jpgAre we really at the last beer? Looks like it, and this one’s gonna be good. I know this because next up is the Brooklyn Beer – Black Chocolate Stout. We tried some of my favorite beers in this tasting – some (like the Lion) are a staple for me and are all-around excellent beers. That said, the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is, in my opinion, the best stout I’ve ever had. To me, this beer is in a class all by itself. Partly because it’s a 10.9 abv beer, which opens up a whole new category of Imperial style brews, but mostly because this beer, regardless of the alcohol content, is simply extremely well crafted. It has all the roasted malt goodness that you’d want in a stout, a perfectly blended chocolate sweetness, finished with a dry heat which rounds out the beer perfectly. Russian Imperials can sometimes overwhelm me towards the end of the glass, but this beer, being slightly lighter in feel than some others, is perhaps the most drinkable and enjoyable all the way through. If you get a chance to try one, do it, you wont be disappointed.

Wow, that was fun! I had a great time tasting all of these beers and having them back-to-back gave me a chance to really compare the differences in a way I’ve not done before. I hope you got something out of it, too. I’d love to hear some comments and thoughts about beers that didn’t make it into this tasting and maybe give me some suggestions on beers you think I might enjoy. Until then, Cheers! ~G

That’s a lot of Stout, man… (part one)

I think it might be time for me to admit that I have a small obsession with stouts these days. I can’t stop, people. I need them, and they need me. Stouts…you complete me. Actually, they’re making me fat, but I don’t care – I can buy bigger clothes.

So, here’s the concept. My buddy Jim and I decided that since there is so much stout goodness out there, a ‘Stout Night’ was in order. Sounds delicious, right? So over the next few days I hopped around from store to store, cobbling together the beers which would make it into the session. Quick side note, I hate calling a night of beer drinking a ‘session.’ I don’t know why I capitulate to that description cause it sounds kinda nerdy. Ironically, using the word capitulate when I could have just said give-in is also nerdy. I’m screwed on this one, I think. At any rate, I finally made the final selections and the night was set – this was going to be fun. Here’s the lineup: Harviestoun – Old Engine Oil, Bridgeport – Stout, Highland Brewing – Black Mocha Stout, Oscar’s – Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, Left Hand – Milk Stout, Fort Collins – Chocolate Stout, Mackeson – Triple Stout, Lion Stout, Rouge – Chocolate Stout, Young’s – Double Chocolate Stout, and finally, the Brooklyn Brewing Co – Black Chocolate Stout. You’ll notice that there aren’t many of the Imperial variety and most of these don’t exceed 6.2% (although a couple do) and that’s intentional. It’s not really a fair fight to compare some of the ‘smaller’ stouts to the Imperial monsters, so we focused on beers you’d find in a typical grocery store to see who reigns supreme. Let’s do it.

We decided to basically guess as to the order in which we would try the beers; starting from what we thought would be the smallest, and ending with the biggest. We had our plan so we opened the first bottle – the Harviestoun Old Engine Oil. We’d never tried this beer so we really had no idea what to expect, but we weren’t all that scared to be honest.

Part One:

old_engine_oil.jpgThe pour was almost totally black with an virtually non-existent head, even after an aggressive pour. On the nose is mostly roasted malt, without too much else going on. The flavor of the stout was pretty basic, featuring lots of roastiness and coffee-like bitterness. The body was medium-thin and the carbonation level seemed to be a little prickly for the lightness of the beer. Overall, a pretty good start to the night but nothing to write home about. Old Engine Oil *does* get points for having a name that makes me want to try it, strictly based on curiosity. Low points go to it being pretty average all around.

bport.jpgNext on the list was the Bridgeport Stout. Again, a nice dark pour with very little head to speak of. This beer had a little more chocolate on the nose and at least smelled like it would have a degree of complexity that the first brew lacked. Well, the nose was good. The flavor was, again, thinner than I would have liked with a bitterness that seemed to collect in a sourish kind of way about halfway through. If you had told me that this was a homebrew I would have believed you. It would have been a pretty decent home brew, but not on par with what a major brewery should be capable of. This beer just came off as kind of flat, not in carbonation, but in character.

Next up was the Highland Black Mocha Stout. I’ve been impressed with this smaller brewery for it’s consistency, highlighted by the Kashmir Imperial IPA, so I had high hopes for the stout. The pour yielded a little better head than the first 2 beers, with more head and better coloring. And finally, some character on the nose. Chocolate and coffee were present and there was a hint of sweetness in there somewhere as well. The flavor was a bit of a surprise in that the body was a little thinner than you’d expect from the nose. There are some good qualities to the beer, although the overall palette seems a little disjointed. The malty bitterness separates from the sweeter elements on the tongue, and the aftertaste seems to rest in a different place altogether. It’s like the beer is fighting with itself a tad. Overall, pretty decent, though, and we’re moving in the right direction in our quest. Not a real quest, of course, unless you count walking to the fridge for another beer as quest-like. I’d call it more of a jaunt, but that’s just me.

beergeek_1978_15333412.jpgOscar’s Oatmeal Chocolate Stout from Sand Creek Brewing Co. was next and I had never even heard of this beer before. The name sure sounds good, though, so here we go. The pour was rich and dark and the nose was really pleasing and chocolaty. The first thing that I noticed about this beer was that it was really well balanced. The carbonation level was right on the money and the oatmeal provided a nice thickness to the mouthfeel, which is something that has been lacking so far in our tasting. The recipe was obviously well-crafted and I would like to try more from the brewery if I can find some.

mackeson.jpg The journey continues with the Mackeson Triple Stout. This beer is actually a Milk Stout and the lactose-induced sweetness is immediately apparent on the nose. Theres also a hint of dried fruit – a spicy kind of sweetness reminiscent of fruitcake. For the record, I don’t like fruitcake and wouldn’t really suggest eating one, or putting one in your beer, but this was surprisingly a nice part of the nose. Caramel, chocolate and coffee are all there in abundance and the head is a nice caramel color. The flavor is rich and sweet – a nice departure from the more basic beers so far. The carbonation was mellowed on this beer relative to the others and overall felt a little more finished and balanced. It’s is very drinkable and not overly heavy and I’d characterize the body as medium, while still nice and flavorful. The best one so far, but there are some heavy hitters to come.

By now you’re probably thinking that this is a really long blog post and 1) I don’t have time to read all of this at one time and 2) I need a beer. Maybe a stout? Stay tuned for part two where we dive in to some of the big boys – yum.

Cheers, ~G