Monthly Archives: March 2016

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend

The Lucky Seven Selection

Blame Guinness for declaring St. Patrick’s Weekend. Not that I’m complaining. Stouts of all stripes are among my favourite beers, after all. Guinness has also given me an excuse to bundle my occasional Saturday Six-Pack Series together with the commemoration of a saint who drove snakes out of a country that has never seen a snake. IMG_6648We’ll leave that to naturalists and hagiographers to debate while we tuck into a few stout beers.

Stouts, though. Not exactly a clear-cut style. Case in point: the marked proliferation of sub-styles in the 2015 edition of the BJCP Style Guidelines compared with the 2008 edition –– proof positive that style categories are anything but static. And then we have all those legends worthy of St. Patrick, guaranteed to keep self-styled beer historians debating till the wee hours. Though I’m not (yet) what I’d call a historian of beer, I know enough about the shifting sands of beer styles to say that you’re not alone if you’ve ever confused a porter with a stout. And don’t even get started with Russian Stouts. Or do. Interesting stories of icy sea journeys and opulent courts abound, along with no shortage of confusion over nomenclature. For now, I’m content to let the legends be. If nothing else, the heated debates and sedulous myth-busting make for entertaining reading.

Fine-grained differences between stouts and the family resemblance with porters aside, just what is it about stouts that keep us coming back for more, century after century? It’s worth quoting Ray Daniels, one of the more lucid writers on homebrewing caught up in an alliterative moment:

Perhaps it is the blinding blackness of the brew as it sits in the glass – a sort of barroom black hole so intense that it might absorb everything around it.

He continues:

Those who finish their first glass often become converts, swearing allegiance and setting off on a sybaritic search for the perfect pint.

Twenty years after Daniels wrote those words, our love affair with stouts shows no sign of abating. Bourbon County Brand Stout, anyone? Or how about Dark Lord Day – which, incidentally, has its very own website?

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For this edition of your “Lucky Seven” Saturday Six-Pack, I’m going to leave the emerald isles to their celebrations and sample what lies beyond the traditional Anglo-Irish homeland of stouts. Much as I love plenty of American stouts, enough has been written about these justifiably sought-after beers, so I’ll save a sixer of those for another day.

Regardless of which version of the history of the style you read, one element of the story stands out in all versions: Stout is an eminently international beverage, with examples from just about every continent. The stouts I talk about below are, for the most part, available in any well-stocked North American bottle shop. As for the Austrian and Czech examples? Whether you live in Los Angeles or Latvia, you’ll need to get a little closer to the source. Never a bad thing, exploring new beer regions.

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Rasputin (Brouwerij de Molen, Netherlands). Why not start off with a beer that tips its hat to that infamous lover of the Russian Queen? The lightest-hued stout in this mixed pack, Rasputin is no black knight, but also no lightweight at 23º Plato and 10.4% alcohol. Translation: plenty of malt, and more than enough octane to go the distance.Brouwerij de Molen website (03-bierografiebanner) And like any wise master of intrigue, it hides its claws. Cocoa-dusted ganache, dark cherry, chocolate milk, and plenty of rich Ovaltine-like malt herald a palate of bitter black coffee, prune, and earthy-anise licorice. Café au lait and bourbon vanilla bean linger in the background of this medicinally bitter beer. The beer was bottled in August 2015 and carries a balsy best-by date of 2040, so I’d suggest giving this beer a few years to round out. Brouwerij de Molen has created a tidy little niche for itself with its big beers. You can also check out my extended review of their Hel & Verdoemenis Imperial Stout.

Espresso Stout (Hitachino Nest, Japan). You may be familiar with the little red owl adorning Hitachino Nest’s beer labels, but what you might not know is that this spectacularly successful brand started as a side-project of a saké kura in the Tohoku region of Japan.IMG_6654 Kiuchi Brewery knows a thing or two about the art of fermentation, and it shows in their beers. Even if the Espresso Stout’s coffee notes are a touch too “jalapeno green” for my taste, it nonetheless delivers a satisfying cup of espresso spiked with dark chocolate, mocha, and chocolate liqueur. Black cherry and prune lurk in the depths, and an earthy herbal-spiciness evoking sassafras lends intrigue to this export-strength stout (7% ABV).

Morrigan Dry Stout (Pivovar Raven, Plzeň, Czech Republic). A stout isn’t the first beer you’d expect to come across in the town where a particularly ubiquitous beer style was born. Echoing the understated brewing tradition of western Bohemia, Raven’s Morrigan is the kind of stout that doesn’t rely on barrels or tonnes of malt to win over its admirers. As impenetrable as the Bohemian Forest at night, Morrigan offers up dark notes of earthy cocoa powder and an ever-so-slight smokiness from the roasted malts.IMG_6464 Mocha and dark cherry brighten up the beer’s countenance, with café au lait and a touch of milk caramel adding a suggestion of sweetness to this elegantly austere, tautly balanced dry stout. One Tankard.

Imperial Stout, (Nøgne Ø, Norway). Nøgne Ø prides itself on its uncompromising approach to quality, an approach reflected not only in its beers. The brewery’s name pays homage to the famous Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, who used the poetic term, “naked island,” to describe “the stark, barren, outcroppings that are visible in the rough seas off Norway’s southern coast.” Nøgne Ø’s rich and unctuous imperial stout forms the perfect antipode to images of steel-hued coastlines ravaged by waves. Lyric aromas of espresso, prune, molasses, dark bread, vanilla, cookie dough, walnut, and a touch of salted caramel cascade forth from this jet-black beer –– a dreamy complexity that retains its harmoniousness throughout. Chocolate notes take center stage on the moderately sweet and rounded palate. Cocoa-dusted prune mingles with milk chocolate-coated pecans; baking spice hop notes intertwine with artisanal dark bread and a smooth, understated bitterness. Note: This example was bottled in October 2012 and consumed in March 2016. File under cellar-worthy, and take Nøgne Ø’s advice regarding serving temperature (12ºC). Two Tankards.

Lion Stout (The Ceylon Brewery, Carlsberg Group, Sri Lanka). Formerly grouped under the Foreign Extra Stout category in the BJCP Style Guidelines, Tropical Stout is now a category of its own (16C, for anyone interested). If you’re new to the style, expect a sweet, fruity stout with a smooth roast character –– somewhere between a stepped-up milk stout and a restrained imperial stout. Opaque ruby-violet black with a brooding brown foam cap concealing 8.8 percent of alcohol, Lion Stout is not for the faint of heart. Fruit aromas of currants, burnt raisin, and prune combine with a vinous character not unlike a tart-cherry Chianti. Underneath it all lurks a smoky-roasty bass note that keeps company with licorice, acidic dark chocolate, and mocha. The dark chocolate and vinous acidity carries over onto the palate, balanced by creamy mocha and velvety alcohol. Rum-soaked cherries strike a pose with earthy licorice, while mild notes of roast-smoke intertwine with cocoa-dusted milk chocolate and dried currants. Surprisingly buoyant for its alcohol and malt heft, this is one dangerously drinkable beer. One Tankard.

Royal Dark (Biermanufaktur Loncium, Austria). What would a “lucky seven 6-pack” of stouts be without an entry from the lands known more for their lagers and wheat beers? Even if Austria isn’t legally bound by the Reinheitsgebot, many Austrian brewers proudly proclaim their allegiance to these strictures governing beer purity.Loncium - Mtn Toast Not a bad thing, but more often than not, adherence to the Reinheitsgebot translates into a limited selection of beer styles in Austria. Up until recently, home-grown stouts and porters were rare birds indeed. Enter Loncium, a pioneering brewery hailing from the southern province of Carinthia noted for its dramatic Alpine scenery. Loncium’s pleasant milk stout features a dusting of cocoa powder, a dollop of caramel, a touch of dark cherry, and a hint of bread crust. Scents of fresh-ground coffee, mocha, and a suggestion of smoke from the roasted malts round out the aromas. Coffee with cream gives way to baking spice and dark berry notes on the palate. Smooth, off-dry, and with the mildest bitterness, you could almost call this beer a café-au-lait stout.

Imperial Stout (Midtfyns Bryghus, Denmark). Overture: Onyx, with tinges of ruby. Waves of malt and a judicious hand with the oak. Act I: Toasted toffee, crème caramel, and smoky dark chocolate opening out onto cookie dough, bourbon vanilla bean, cocoa-spiked molasses, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and Vollkornbrot.Vollkornbrot (www-quora-net) Intermission: Full-bodied and silky –– right on the border between whole milk and light cream. Act II and aria: Black Forest cherry cake and a buttery pecan nuttiness countered by a splash of rum. Curtain call: Off-dry and fruity-jammy, with raisin and juicy prune lingering well into the sunset. Expansive and stellar. Three Tankards.

With that I say cheers! And vive la sybaritic search for la perfect pint of stout!

Further Reading:

Ron Pattinson, “What’s the Difference between Porters and Stouts?All About Beer (August 27, 2015).

Martyn Cornell, “Imperial Stouts: Russian or Irish?” posted on his Zytophile blog (26 June 2011).

Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1996).

For a fleeting hint at the colonial history behind stouts in places like Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Jamaica, see Jenny Pfäfflin, “Chicagoist’s Beer of the Week: Lion Stout,” Chicagoist (July 10, 2015).

Consult the links contained in the text above for more information on the individual breweries.

Images

Brouwerij de Molen banner: http://brouwerijdemolen.nl/beers/

Loncium brewers in the Alps: www.loncium.at

Vollkornbrot: https://www.quora.com/

All other images: F.D. Hofer

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Bourbon Squared: Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Meets Barrel-Aged Beer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Epicurean Unbound: Five Ways to Expand Your Tasting Horizons

The year is no longer so new, and all those well-intended resolutions have long since faded in the rearview mirror. But it’s never too late for resolutions concerning your beer tasting abilities, whether you’re new to this whole craft beer thing or a seasoned veteran. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy good food and drink, tasting is an aptitude that only gets better with practice.IMG_4687While we’re drinking up, here are a few more resolutions aimed at satisfying your inner sybarite: Drink more coffee from different parts of the world. Drink Scotch more often. Learn about the wonderful world of sherry, from the dry Manzanilla with its whiff of the sea to the inky Pedro Ximenez sweet like molasses and redolent of dates, figs, and raisins. Try different kinds of honey, and eat more chocolate. Take time to smell the flowers –– and all those spices, herbs, perfumes, nuts, grains, and fruit. What sets lemon zest apart from lime zest? Tangerines apart from Meyer lemons or blood oranges?

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Now that you’ve visited your local farmers’ market, now that you’ve bought a variety of nuts and procured vanilla beans and bags of whole spices, and now that you’ve cut some herbs and flowers from your garden, it’s time to have some fun honing your tasting skills.IMG_4156Targeted Tasting

Pick a beer style or two, and then read up on what characterizes the aromas and flavours of these beers. Now head over to your well-stocked spice cabinet and fridge to find some of the spices, fruits, syrups, coffees, nuts, herbs, balsamic vinegar, honey, baker’s chocolate, cocoa, honey, and the like associated with those beer styles. If it’s a spice, grind it up fresh with your mortar and pestle; if it’s a citrus fruit, zest it or juice it. Add the contents to ramekins, jars, vials, or whatever you have on hand. If you plan far enough ahead, you can even infuse vodka with herbs, spices, fruit, chili peppers –– jalapeno’s a good one –– or flowers like lavender. (Bonus: If you’re a homebrewer, these infusions can yield interesting results. Add to taste at bottling or kegging.)

IMG_1833Say you’ve chosen Belgian-style Witbier. Buy a few different kinds of Witbier, and maybe throw in a Hefeweizen for comparison’s sake. Grind up some cloves and some coriander, and maybe some cinnamon, too. Zest some lemon or perhaps some orange. You could even include chamomile tea, crushed lavender, or honey. Invite a few friends over and pass around your various concoctions so that everyone can get a sense of what they’re about to smell and taste. Crack open the beer, and then see if you can identify particular aromas when they’re mixed in with other aromas. Once you’re all well into enjoying your beer, you can send the containers around again to see who can identify which aromas, this time blind.

Blinded by My Love of …

The reputations of some beers precede them, whether they’re venerable classics or the hyped brands of the moment. Anyone who has been drinking craft beer long enough has encountered the ubiquitous lists of the world’s best beers. Pliny the Elder scores a perfect 100 on Beer Advocate, as does Kentucky Breakfast Stout. But are these beers “perfect”? The absolute “best” example of a style you’ll ever drink?IMG_5198 Preconceptions about labels, packaging, and price points have an immense impact on our perceptions, to the point that ratings can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

But when the influence of a label is removed…

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard friends swear that XYZ IPA is their absolute favourite IPA, or that ABC Imperial Stout is the best beer anywhere around, only to see their surprise when those assertions didn’t hold up in a blind tasting. At the same time, I’ve also been part of blind tastings where certain beers turn out to be worth every ounce of hype.

So try it at home. First, you’ll need to invest in enough uniform glassware that your friends can taste three to four beers side-by-side. Next, you’ll need to devise some way of identifying the glasses. I stick a small piece of masking tape on the bottom of each glass, and number them in series of 1 through 4. After that, one person needs to cover all the bottles with paper bags or (clean) socks and pour out the samples. Obviously, that person won’t be tasting that particular flight blind, but you can take turns. When all is said and done, you might find out that an occasionally overlooked but otherwise solid and reasonably priced beer is among your favourite of the lot.

Stump the Chump

If you’re a fan of the late, great Tom Magliozzi and his brother Ray, better known as “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” on NPR’s Car Talk, you know about “Stump the Chumps.” One way to introduce an extra element of intrigue into your tastings is to play the craft beer version of “Stump the Chump.”IMG_4694 All you need to do is ask each of your friends to find a beer that’s easily confused with another beer style –– or a style that you and your friends might not drink much of. We’ve already touched on the influence that labels can have, but without any initial cues beyond the colour of the beer, you’ll be surprised how hard it is to guess a style “blind.” Is it a porter or a stout? A Tripel or a Belgian golden strong ale? A British ESB or a strong ale? A Scotch ale? A Doppelbock? Bonus points if you can guess the brewery.

Note: Needless to say, some of your craft beer-drinking friends may not react too kindly when you punk them with BMC. I once had a friend praise the merits of what he thought was a delicate Kölsch. Not Kölsch, I said. Coors. He wasn’t amused. Lest I come across as some sort of all-knowing beer sage in this post, I hasten to add that I’ve been hung out to dry on more than a few occasions myself.

Style of the Week

It’s time to reward yourself for all that hard work tasting beer blind and trying to identify the differences between coriander and cardamom. And what better way is there to find out what kinds of porters you like than sharing several of them with friends?IMG_5171 The BJCP Style Guidelines aren’t the most thrilling read in the world, but if you dip in from time to time while drinking, say, a series of Bocks and Doppelbocks, or the entire gamut of IPAs, you’ll get a better sense of what the brewer was trying to achieve, and what flavour and aroma characteristics you might encounter. You’ll also start to get a feel for the often subtle and sometimes radical differences within a particular style. If you’re a homebrewer, this is an excellent way to find out what makes a style tick.

Test Time!

You’ll be surprised at how much you actually learn when studying for the entry-level online BJCP or Cicerone exams. These tests are far from impossible (you can do it!), and they give you an excuse to hit the books (and beers) a few nights a week. Who knows? You might find that you enjoy the judging side of drinking beer … and beer competitions around the country could always use more judges.

Remember, though, it’s all about enhancing your enjoyment of what’s in the glass. If you find that the “practice” element of beer appreciation is eclipsing your enjoyment, just grab a beer out of your fridge or cellar and kick back. Now that I have finished writing this, I’m going to do the same.IMG_4917

Related Tempest Articles

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All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

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