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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Make it Black

BEERS - BLACK IN NAME AND/OR COLOR

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."


THE BOTTOM LINE

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.

BEERSPOTTING


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.


Sláinte,
The BOTB Guys

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