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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Make it Black


Deep in the very bowels of winter...
There came a day so dark and drear.
The cold, the wind, the snow did linger 
And yet The Guys had naught to fear,
Without 'twas Old Man's icy finger,
Within some dark and tasty beer.

And what a line-up! Not just a bunch of IBAs (India Black Ale - or perhaps IDA - India Dark Ale?) either. There were arguably five different styles. Because of this they didn't really lend themselves to a head-to-head competition. We tasted 'em and rated 'em - but according to style. We went against normal practice and tasted them at random, rather than according to ABV. Although, for the most part, the biggest beers came toward the end. 

First up was Newcastle Cabbie Black Ale. While Newcastle isn't exactly a craft beer by definition - it's owned by Heineken and in the late '90's was the most widely distributed alcoholic beverage in the UK - it is fun to throw a few foreign brews into the mix to see how they stack up. 

Newcastle Cabbie Black Ale
John Smith Brewery, Tadcaster, North Yorkshire 

The Beer Facts: Style: English Dark Mild Ale; ABV: 4.2%; IBU: 25

What the Brewer Says: "Hailed from Britain. The one and only. Featuring notes of various fruits, chocolate and coffee."

Color: Dark Amber

Pour: Heady pour with tight tan bubbles.

Aroma: Malty

Body: Medium to thin.

Taste: Malty yeast with notes of fresh baked bread.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This.

Comments: "This is a pleasing beer; It reminds me of my grandmother's horehound candy; I think you just like saying 'horehound' but I see your point; A nice dessert beer; It has that Newcastle aroma; There is a little more smoke than with their Nut Brown, but otherwise very much like it; This is a pretty light bodied beer; I could drink it right through a couple football games and still know the scores; It's a little creamy on the tongue."

Wookey Jack
Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, CA

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Black Rye IPA (or IBRA?); ABV: 8.3%; IBUs: 80; SRM: 45; MALTS: Pale malt, malted rye, Dash of Cara-rye, Midnight wheat from Briess; De-bittered Black Malt, Dash of Wookey Dust. HOPS: German Magnum (bittering), Citra and Amarillo (flavor, aroma and double dry-hopped); MISC.: 2012 Gold Medal Winner for American-style black ale - Great American Beer Festival. 

What the Brewer Says: "A unique twist on the Cascadian Dark Ale style. Wookey Jack offers true hop aroma to rival most IPAs, with pungent citrus and herbal hop nuances, a hint of peppery rye, and earthiness on the nose."

Color: Black (completely opaque) and unfiltered

Pour: An ample dark tan head, with good lacing.

Aroma: A citrus and pine aroma that smells like a hop harvest!

Body: Between medium and full

Taste: A wonderful bitter bite, with notes of dark chocolate, spice, rye and roasted grain.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!!

Comments: "This is on the darker and tempting side; Nice grapefruit hop; It has a nice pungent aroma; It is wonderful; Absolutely delicious beer; It's a little less on the alcohol taste than you would guess; Huge flavor and nice complexity; I love what Firestone Walker did with this; Another great West Coast beer."

Dubhe Imperial Black IPA
Uinta Brewing, Salt Lake City, Utah

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American style Imperial Black IPA; ABV: 9.2%; IBU: claimed 109! (See last month's blog); SRM: 110; MALTS and HOPS: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Toasted chocolaty dark malts align with an astronomical amount of hops." 

Color: Opaque black

Pour: Ample creamy, thick ecru head with decent staying power.

Aroma: Wonderful malty/bready, with pine and citrus hops.

Body: Medium to full

Taste: Initially quite bitter, then a malty backbone. The high IBUs rating is tempered with a strong malt presence.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!!

Comments: "This is a good beer, I could drink this; This would be good on pancakes (???); It has a good tongue bite; Delightful; A lot of alcohol that is not very well disguised; WTF - Salt Lake City?!; Very well made."

Heart of Darkness Stout
Magic Hat Brewing Company, South Burlington, Vermont

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Stout; ABV: 5.7%; IBU: 30; SRM: 80; MALTS: Pale, Crystal, Roasted Barley, Chocolate, Munich; HOPS: Apollo, Golding; YEAST: English Ale; AVAILABILITY: October through January.

What the Brewer Says: "Our inky-black stout had a smooth, round palate with a dreamlike undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate. This dense liquid-silk summoned hope from hibernation and balanced winter's endless white snows with a rich swirl of creamy black rapture."

Color: Again, opaque black.

Pour: Decent light brown head, without a great deal of retention.

Aroma: Light grass or hay.

Body: Medium

Taste: Dilute molasses; sorghum; some smoky malts, coffee, and chocolate.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This.

Comments: "solid, drinkable stout; More sweet than hopped or bitter; A little light - body was thinner than I expected it to be, you expect a black to be thicker, though that is not necessarily true; Impressive finish; It has that roasty, bready taste; I am pleasantly surprised by it; There is something missing in the middle - it has a nice beginning and finish."

Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
North Coast Brewing, Fort Bragg, California

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 9.0%; IBUs: 75; MALTS and HOPS: NA; AWARDS: 2012 Gold Medal Winner Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival.

What the Brewer Says: "Produced in the tradition of 18th Century English brewers who supplied the court of Catherine the Great, Old Rasputin  seems to develop a cult following wherever it goes. It's a rich, intense brew with big complex flavors and a warming finish."

Color: Dark chocolate/black

Pour: Nice dark tan head which dissipates rapidly

Aroma: A little grass - not real strong, roasty malt, a bit of chocolate.

Body: Medium to Full

Taste: Burnt, malty; sweet licorice; a bit of coffee; bitter and alcohol finish

Overall Impression: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough"

Comments: "They don't disguise the alcohol; The finish is nice, not a cloying one you sometimes find in Imperials; A clean finish; You don't expect a finish like this from a Russian; It's quite drinkable; Not overly sweet; It has an interesting label; I like it."
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, NY

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 10%; IBUs: 51; MALTS: American pale two-row malt; Caramel Malt; Malted wheat, a blend of American roasted malts and barleys; HOPS: Willamette and American Fuggle; AVAILABILITY: October to March; AWARDS: 2012 World Beer Cup - bronze; 2012 Australian International Beer Awards - Gold Medal.

What the Brewer Says: "This is the famous Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, our award-winning rendition of the Imperial Stout style, once made exclusively for Catherine the Great...It is delicious when newly bottled, but also ages beautifully for years."

Color: Black Strap molasses

Pour: Decent light brown head with lasting lacing

Aroma: Light chocolate, cloves/spicy, and a bit of fruit

Body: Full/thick

Taste: Overpowering alcohol and chocolate, with notes of nuts and fruit.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This

Comments: "It's a little heavy for me; Kind of medicine-y; It's too much; Not my favorite beer; The alcohol smacks you right in the face; This is really a big stout; Dessert?; The more I have of it, the better I like it; It's one of those beers that kind of grows on you."

Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout
Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury, Vermont

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Russian Imperial Stout; ABV: 10.6%; IBUs: 65; Otter Creek's website is under construction, so there's no info other than this. 

What the Brewer Says: And no quotes.

Color: Coal Black

Pour: Minimal/thin tan of coffee with cream

Aroma: Smoked - not as burnt as Brooklyn

Body: Full

Taste: Some roasted malts and chocolates. There are notes of caramel and molasses.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This.

Comments: "This is good for Otter Creek; I absolutely like it; I can't taste the alcohol as much as the 10%+ ABV would indicate; I wouldn't have guessed the alcohol percentage; It's not as sweet as the other stouts; Add a roasted marshmallow and you'd have a s'more; At Sochi, I'd readily drink it."


To summarize: We had 1 English Style Mild Dark Ale (Newcastle Cabbie Black)
                                  1 Black Rye IPA (Wookey Jack)
                                  1 Imperial Black IPA (Dubhe)
                                  1 Stout (Heart of Darkness)
                                  3 Russian Imperial Stouts (Old Rasputin, Brooklyn Chocolate Stout, Otter Creek) 
Essentially we had five different styles of black beers - and that was without a single Porter. So lets take it from the top:

-Newcastle Cabbie Black - Generally a favorable reception here. It had a nice rich malty flavor and the low ABV makes it a beer you could enjoy over the course of a long afternoon and still remain upright. It scored well as a session-type beer. Very pleasing subtle flavors. We could definitely drink this, though it would not necessarily be our first choice. 

-Firestone Walker's Wookey Jack - Perhaps the overall favorite of the night. A wonderful beer that deliciously blends the hoppiness of an IPA with the rich maltiness of a good stout or porter. A truly excellent beer. We gave it a resounding "Can't Get Enough" rating which was unanimous.

-Uinta Imperial Black IPA - This one got high scores from us as well. Like Wookey Jack it is a kind of best-of-both-worlds beer that gives you a nice hop bite with a pleasing malt presence. A close second to Wookey judging by the comments. Also a solid "Can't Get Enough" rating.

-Magic Hat's Heart of Darkness - The only true Stout of the evening, this was a tasty, malty brew that would please Stouthearts. We felt it opened and finished well, but was a little light in the middle. It was lighter bodied than we expected, otherwise it was another solid beer. 

-Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout - Probably the favorite of the three Imperials we tried. We were impressed by its clean finish and the fact that it was not overly sweet. It scored somewhere between "I could drink this" and " Can't get enough" giving it an overall favorable rating.

-Brooklyn Chocolate Stout - Our least favorite of the three Imperials, though a number of us found that it sort of grew on you after a few tastes. Our main complaint was that the alcohol seemed somewhat front and center, overpowering the more subtle flavors. It is a sipping beer to be sure. 

-Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout - Overall this was received favorably. We felt the alcohol did not overpower the beer, which was a plus. We found it not overly sweet, but a good dessert beer.


I was watching Orange is the New Black the other day and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a bottle of good ol' Southern Tier!  Note the distinctive green-labeled bottle on the table of Southern Tier IPA. Pretty cool.

Next month we're having an East vs. West IPA challenge.

We'll leave you with a reprise of Make it Black in case you missed it the first time when we reviewed porters, and just because it seems appropriate.

Make it Black
(Sung to the tune of "Paint it Black")

I see a lite beer and I want it to be black;
No "see-thru" brews for me, I want them to be black;
Don't want no tasteless beers dressed up with summer fruit;
Just pour that down the drain, 'cause I don't give a hoot.
Don't want no Silver Bullet, got to make it black;
Hand me a Lite my friend you're going to get it back;
Don't want no mega-brew pretending to be "craft;"
No sissy lo-cal beer, I want a pitch-black draft.
No deep black to my beer will really make me blue;
Don't want to read the paper through a new-poured brew;
If I look hard enough into that ebon quaff;
I'll feel my spirits rise as my taste buds take off.

Even an IPA I often want it black;
No yellow beers for me, I need them to be black;
Don't want no pale-faced beer ya' gotta' serve on ice;
Give me a deep dark brew, no name that starts with "weiss"

I see just "lites" on tap and I want to be sick;
Pour me a Russian Stout that's wonderfully thick;
Don't want no "interesting" man, telling me what to drink
No macho cowboy ads, tellin' me how to think.

The BOTB Guys

Friday, January 17, 2014

Holiday Break

The BOTB Guys took a holiday break, which is not to say we didn't still get together and have some great beer. We just got together and had some great beer. We didn't rate it, we merely enjoyed it. With no ratings this month, I thought I'd just empty out my "Beer Thoughts" folder, a place for random beer-related ramblings, and see what might be worthy fodder for the beer aficionados who stumble upon this site from time to time.

But first...

A big thanks to Saranac and Sam Adams for sending along some brews to help us celebrate the holidays. Sam sent their Boston Lager and Ruby Mild. Their lager is, of course, familiar to all - certainly one of the best lagers out there. Ruby Mild was an interesting beer. It had a nice nutty, caramel sweet taste (though not overly so). It is, as the name implies, mild - as in a very easy drinking and pleasant beer. Very nice session

Saranac sent along a nice selection of beers: their Pale Ale, Spice Christmas Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, 4059 Porter, Decoction Concoction, and Moonshadow Black IPA. It is, in fact, the beers from this year's 12 Beers of Winter. As you might guess, our favorite was the Moonshadow Black IPA. It had a nice solid hop kick to it that blended well with the dark malts. But the 4059 Porter was a really tasty brew - a porter with a nice little hop kick to it also. Decoction Concoction made for a nice session beer - it's a red lager that tastes like a pale ale. The  was a drinkable mildly spiced ale. A touch of ginger, perhaps. Lighter bodied and more of a session beer than a lot of Christmas beers, which is not a bad thing; some are just so heavily spiced that they lose their basic beer-ness. The Belgian is very representative of that style.
Christmas Ale

Just got a look at Saranac's Twelve Beers a Springing mixed 12 and it looks good. It includes Prism White Ale, Forbidden IPA, Red IPA, Dry Hopped Lager, and Irish Stout. Another reason to look forward to spring.

A Tip of the Mug and a Wag of the Finger

When we began this beer Odyssey a few years ago, we contacted a number of craft breweries to see if we could get any samples sent to us to rate. A shameless attempt to obtain free beer, you say? Well, yes. But, on the other hand, we would be discussing their beer in a forum that would reach literally thousands of craft beer lovers.Through Dan's relentless pursuit, we were able to get a number of breweries on board. But a funny thing happened on the way to the blog - with some of these breweries (which shall remain nameless) all was well until we gave a negative review of one of their beers. Then suddenly it was crickets out there. Our reviews are never nasty, they are simply honest. If we liked a beer, we said so, if not we merely say it's not our pint of brew, so to speak. Didn't matter. Suddenly, no more beer, no more correspondence. This is not the case with both Sam Adams and Saranac. We have reviewed several of their beers and the results have ranged from "Leave it on the Shelf" to "Can't Get Enough!" These breweries get that not every beer will appeal to every taste - and that's okay. If we aren't honest about the beers we aren't crazy about, how can we be trusted when we say a beer is great? So... A tip of the mug to Saranac and Sam. A wag of the finger to those who can't handle our truth!

If You Can't Make It Good, Make It Cold

I've never been a big fan of the taste of milk. Even as a kid. I liked it on cereal or with a cookie, but not just plain. Not without something else to mask the taste. Then one day the parents of a friend of mine installed one of those milk dispensers like they have in restaurants. You know, those big metal refrigerated units you load up with big plastic bags filled with milk. The bag has a little hose that sticks out of the bottom of the unit and you dispense the milk by lifting up on a big handle. For whatever reason, the milk that came out of that dispenser was ice cold, and I found I could down a glass of it on its own. Why? Well, it was ice cold, as I said, and the colder something is, the harder it is for our taste buds to perceive the taste. It is why a good red wine should never be chilled, and why frozen products such as ice cream and shushees need to be so sweet. While people have known this for years, the underlying cause of this phenomenon was revealed in a study by researchers at Belgium's Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. They identified microscopic channels in our tastebuds - called TREM5 - which they determined were responsible for perceiving different tastes at different temperatures. As the temperature of liquid or food increases, our ability to perceive the taste increases. (Food

So, what do you do if you have a product that doesn't really have much in the way of flavor to begin with? How do you market said product which, for the sake of argument, is an adult libation? Check out those Coors Light commercials for a hint. Nothing about hops, malt, or taste - just cold. They even make cans that tell you when the beer is cold enough. The overriding motif of all of their ads is ice, ice, baby. The whole marketing strategy is based on temperature, and for good reason. Ever had a light beer that wasn't ice cold? Awful!

On the other hand, I had some beer in our unheated solar room the other day (or what I like to call my walk-in beer cooler in the winter). I grabbed a Flower Power and was a bit disappointed that I wasn't getting my usual hop fix. Then I realized the outside temperature was sub-zero, making the temperature in the solar room in the thirties. I allowed the beer to warm a bit and was rewarded with the hoppy deliciousness I had come to expect. 

I remember for years hearing of the horrors of warm beer in places like England. The truth is today most any British bar will have Bud or Miller or Coors Light served ice cold. It is the locally brewed beers, usually on old fashioned pump taps pulling the beer from kegs stored in the basement at around 45 - 55 degrees that are perceived as warm because they're not ice cold. Thing is, they're also good. The reason they don't need to be ice cold? Flavor.

Is Bitter Better?

These are general levels - various brewers may well
color outside these lines.
International Bittering Units (IBUs) is a measurement of a beers perceived bitterness. Beers range from a low of around 5 for some light lagers to a high of 100 for some potent IPAs. (Some brewers claim to exceed the 100 IBU mark, but the official scale tops out at 100). For comparison purposes, Budweiser Lager comes in at around 12 IBUs, Guinness Stout at around 40, while Ithaca's Flower Power weighs in at 75 IBUs. It is the addition of hops that gives beer its bitterness. The balancing act between hops and malts is one of the things that can make beers of a similar style so markedly different. Some brewers prefer to pour on the hops when they make their IPAs, pushing the IBUs into the upper range of the scale - that 70 - 100 range. Others like to balance out the hops with a maltier presence, bringing the IBUs down into the 60s (and really, anything below 60 shouldn't be called an IPA - I'm talking to you Henry Weinhard Woodland Pass IPA at a paltry 43 IBUs). 

So why is bitter a good thing? Don't we associate bitterness with an unpleasant taste? Ever taken a bite of pure baking chocolate? That is unbridled bitterness, and it is not pleasant at all. Obviously many beer drinkers prefer a beer with a low bitterness factor. Thus the popularity of Bud, Miller, Coors etc. But hops don't just impart bitterness, they also give beers flavors variously described as citrusy or piney or spicy or earthy or flowery, depending upon the hop variety. Add to that the flavors contributed by the malts and yeast and now there is a complexity that fills the mouth rather than merely quenching the thirst. 

Next Month - Black or Dark Beers -
The BOTB Guys