Tag Archives: Brouwerij de Molen

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

Related Tempest Articles

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie, Goose Island, Victory

The Curiosity Cabinet: Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée

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

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

After Hell and Damnation Comes Redemption: Brouwerij de Molen’s Imperial Stout

Brouwerij de Molen is one serious brewery. No brightly coloured logos or designs. Spare black-and-white text-centric labels are clean and to the point. Colour and bittering units. Brewing date: 02 March 2011. Bottling date: 08 April 2011. IMG_9739Ingredients. Bottle 889 of 2144. Drink at 15 Celsius. Original Gravity: 1115. Final Gravity: 1031. Translation: not a Munich Helles. About two-thirds of the way down, the label issues what reads like an implicit provocation: “Good for 25 years.” And if I partake too early, is Hel & Verdoemenis (hell and damnation) my fate?

Twenty-five years is an eternity in beer years – and in Tempest years.

I moved halfway across the continent this past summer, right into the middle of a heat wave. I took all the necessary precautions to protect my age-worthy beers and wines from the elements. But who knows? Maybe, just maybe, the heat got to the beer over those thousands of miles. After all, if I were to age this for a prolonged period of time, wouldn’t it be wise to have a baseline for comparison? Ah, the easy justifications. And then I thought about my recent article praising subtlety in beer. What better way to follow it up than to crack a 10.2% ABV beer with the consistency of motor oil and a riot of flavours and aromas? Life’s worth some damnation from time to time.

Brouwerij de Molen’s Hel & Verdoemenis issues forth from a windmill constructed in 1697, and is of a piece with the brewery’s penchant for high-octane beers capped with names that portend doom and gloom.Brouwerij de Molen - Windmill Like their 15.2% Bommen & Granaten barley wine, for example. If a case ever exploded, it would probably light up a small neighbourhood. Hel & Verdoemenis is an imperial stout – a beer that epitomizes the antipode of subtlety. The style emerged in late-1700s England, and, like its cousin, porter, was a child of the Industrial Revolution. The scale of its production made it eminently suitable for trade. Long voyages across high seas and vast lands meant that these beers had to be brewed with malt and hops aplenty to survive a journey destined for Hanseatic German and Baltic ports, Poland, Scandinavia, and Russia further afield. By the time the casks arrived in St. Petersburg, they had been rendered sufficiently complex by secondary fermentation that they attracted the notice of the Russian imperial court.

Today’s versions of this historical style known variously as “Russian” or “imperial” stout split broadly into Anglo-European and American interpretations. Hel & Veroemenis plants its flag firmly in Europe, using Czech Premiant hops as the bittering agent, and German hops from Hallertau for finishing.

Now, before we drink this, we’d do well to use the force and follow the label’s advice: Drink at 15 Celsius. I say “use the force” because it’s counter-intuitive for most North American beer drinkers to drink a beer at or near room temperature. Let’s also go in search of a brandy snifter to hold this viscous, dense, inky jet-black stout. The snifter helps to concentrate the aromatics, of which there are many. Don’t be alarmed if there isn’t much of a head on the beer. That’s common for high-gravity beers. But be careful at the end of the pour, unless you want that dose of Vitamin B contained in the sediment.

And now for those cascading waves of aromas and flavours worthy of a barrage of adjectives and the occasional foray into purple prose. In a word, profound, like the depths of a forest at dusk. Dense, concentrated, kettle-caramelized malt intermingles with dark country bread and freshly-crushed grain. Earthy licorice root and star anise shade into aged saké, with a wisp of roasted barley, smoke, and leather in the folds. Chocolate anchors the aromas and flavours, now fruity and acidic, now rich and smoky, spanning a spectrum from sweet cocoa to bitter-sweet hot chocolate. Coffee of the robust, nutty, and mildly acidic kind announces its presence, and dark caramel puts in a belated appearance.

On the palate, this chewy stout is as thick as Turkish coffee is rich. Stewed and concentrated plum emerge as the beer opens up, finishing on a high note of smoky bitter-sweet chocolate. With such concentrated flavours, the mild-but-firm hop spice is a more than welcome touch, and the chocolate acidity gives the dark caramel, dark fruit cake, and molasses characteristics sufficient lift.

But alas, even an abundance of adjectives cannot succeed in composing a pitch-perfect beer. For all its wonderfully viscous intensity, the beer’s complexity is more variegated than interlaced at this point. Drinking superbly now, a few more years should help meld the at-times cacophonous elements into a more harmonious chorus.

2 Tankards, with the proviso that more age will likely propel this beer into the 3 Tankard realm.

Final notes:

  • This is a beer that behaves like a wine. Open it, drink, let it open up, drink some more.
  • Excellent with soft cheeses like Jasper Hill Farm’s herbal and tangy bark-wrapped Harbison, Hel & Verdoemenis also makes a great slow-sipping night cap that will not lead to perdition, provided you don’t have too many.
  • At about $9 for a 330mL bottle, it’s not the cheapest bottle on the shelf. I’m skeptical that any bottles I buy in the future will make it to twenty-five years, but if this initial taste is any indication of sublimity to come, I’m in for the long term.

IMG_9740

Related Tempest Posts:

Bourbon in Michigan: Barrel-Aged Beer along the Great Lakes

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

Winter Nights and Warming Barleywines from Sussex, Texas, and Québec

Sources:

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.