Archives for posts with tag: stout

It has been FOREVER since I did a real beer post. Thanks for your patience and putting up with the sporadic posting. Before I get to the beer, here’s the deal: we’re putting our health before EVERYTHING now and so our eating plan allows one cheat day per week. I’m averaging 1-2 beers on cheat day and I’ve been cleaning out old stuff that has been around too long. Not very exciting for reviews! LOL

I did get tempted into Gomer’s midtown location a couple weeks ago and after ogling all the bottles my eyes settled on a canned beer I hadn’t seen before. YES, I am still enamored with the idea of canned craft beers, ESPECIALLY if what’s inside might pour like motor oil!

I picked up this six pack of Santa Fe Brewing Co’s Imperial Java Stout for under $9 and it seemed like a good value. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized it was an “imperial,” I thought it was just a regular coffee stout.

I’m a sucker for packaging and while extremely simple, the Santa Fe can appealed to me because on one side there is a beer mug that says “after noon” and on the other side is a coffee cup that says, “before noon.” Clever.

Coffee beers are best drunk fresh because the coffee character is quick to go. I didn’t know this until I heard it on Craft Beer Radio recently, so I was excited to try a coffee stout that seemed to be a relatively new addition to Gomer’s lineup (i.e. hadn’t been hanging around long) and was also canned, giving it the best chance of retaining as much freshness as possible without drinking it right at the brewery.

According to Santa Fe’s website (worth looking at, they have a nice lineup of interesting-sounding beers) the Imperial Java Stout has an ABV of 8% uses two hop varieties and four types of malt. The website says they use organic beans fro New Guinea and East Timor that are locally roasted in Santa Fe.

Of all the coffee beers I’ve tasted I would say this one is the most coffee forward. There is no mistaking this as a coffee stout. I’m writing this from memory since it’s morning and I don’t really want to drink a stout from a coffee cup as fun as that seems, but I recall a LOT of coffee character (think cold-brewed coffee) with a good, classic stout backbone.

The beer has a good amount of sweetness to it, not quite like Left Hand Milk Stout but not dry, either. The sweetness is balanced in the finish by an earthy hop character and I would say the beer has good overall balance. I enjoyed one can while eating a couple of Justin’s Dark Chocolate peanut butter cups last week and that dried the flavor of the beer out a lot while bringing out more of the hops and a the dark roasty, almost astringent character.

I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised by this beer since I knew nothing about it going into it. It’s a good stout in and of itself, but as a coffee lover I think this is a great example of what a coffee-heavy beer can taste like when done properly. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another six pack of this again!

When I lived in Michigan, I was five minutes away (by foot) from the New Holland Brewing Co. brewpub, an hour from Founders and maybe 90 minutes from Bell’s. Michigan had an incredible brewing scene and four years after leaving it’s even better! I miss it, but luckily we’re able to get a lot of Michigan beers here in Kansas City. Good thing!

Founders makes excellent beers. Period. I guess you can stop reading now! They got their start brewing at the same time as the guys who started New Holland… they were in the same fraternity at Hope College and they all homebrewed together. The founders of NHBC stayed in Holland, MI and the buys from Founders went to Grand Rapids and they both make great beers.

Founders is probably most famous for this one, their Breakfast Stout, and it’s bourbon barrel-aged sibling, Kentucky Breakfast Stout (which is a much more limited release and a lot harder to find). Breakfast Stout comes in a 4-pack for around $10 or so. If you see it, buy it. You’ll love it.

To get the details out of the way, Breakfast Stout is 8.3% ABV with 60IBU’s and it is considered an imperial or “double” stout. Because of it’s name, I’m having it as a quasi-breakfast on this glorious work-free Friday (although it is 10:51AM, so I’m not breaking too many taboos). The beer pours black and thick and it has a nice dark tan head that is about like shaving foam from a can (shudder the thought). It looks a lot like the crema on a good espresso shot.

Breakfast Stout gets its name from the fact that it is a stout with all the stuff in it people love for breakfast: coffee (essential), oatmeal (yum!) and chocolate (sugary cereals, chocolate donuts, the breakfast of champions). These are all things that are commonly added to stouts to begin with, so to find all three in one beer is genius. I guess they could’ve added lactose to make it a milk stout, too, but they must’ve had good reason not too.

The aroma is awesome on this beer. For once my nose seems to be working, and if it’s going to work I’m grateful it’s on this beer! There is nice roastiness on the background, but the main aromas I get are coffee and semi-sweet chocolate. It’s one of those beers I’d be happy just smelling for a while! Oh, and as with most beers, particularly stouts, my preference is to drink these at warmer temps. I probably had the Breakfast Stout sitting out of the fridge for a good 35 minutes before pouring. Your mileage may vary.

Now, to preface this review, I haven’t had a beer in about a month (one at BWW doesn’t count because it was Bud Lite) and I’ve been on a REALLY good diet with no sugar, wheat, alcohol, etc. This is a super treat for me. I may be more excited that I should be! Now, at this warmer temperature I can definitely get some of the alcohol, so I may have it 10 degrees too warm or so. The aftertaste is slightly astringent, giving a slight dryness to my mouth about 30-40 seconds after swallowing, and there is a nice lingering bitterness that is hard to know whether to attribute it to the hops (mainly in the beer for balance) or the roasted components.

The sip is very complex. Chocolate (but bitter chocolate, not sweet) is on the front end and carries through about 75% of the sip. Right after sipping a big wave of bitterness (I think from the coffee component and the roasted malts) that is accentuated by alcohol (again I think I let this warm up too much, but I like it like this) warming hits, then the aftermath of that big wave carries out for a long aftertaste of cocoa powder, slight chalkiness and lingering roasty bitterness.

I don’t know if that sounds good, but it is! I can see now why they didn’t add lactose to make this a milk stout, too. Lactose is an unfermentable sugar, so it stays in the bottle and sweetens the beer without being converted to alcohol by the yeast. Left Hand’s Milk Stout is my favorite example of “milk stouts” (because lactose is a sugar found in milk) or sweet stouts, and it is AWESOME, too. But, I think adding a lot of sweetness would take away from this beer.

The mouthfeel is great. Oatmeal added to beers creates a slick, smooth mouthfeel, and some people can taste the oatmeal on beers, but I don’t think I can. It does make a really rich, full mouthfeel that I always enjoy. The chocolate and coffee are really nicely balanced and the alcohol is a tad hot, but that’s more my mistake than a problem with the beer.

The astringency on this is pretty heavy, more like a porter, with a pronounced drying effect on my tongue and cheeks, so it makes me want to sip more frequently! This is a big beer and I think it is complex enough to make me suggest drinking it by itself. Of course it would go great with all the typical desserts, but this would do well as dessert in and of itself.

Breakfast Stout ranks up there with Bell’s Expedition Stout as one of my favorite imperial stouts and it is world-famous for a reason. Get some!

New Holland Brewing Company is a brewery near and dear to my heart. When I moved to Michigan in 2000, the brewery was still just getting off its feet, more or less. Later, I lived a few blocks from the beautiful brewpub in downtown Holland, MI. I’m thankful I can get their beers now here in Kansas City, too, although I will forever miss the weekly growler night when I could fill my 1/2 gallon jug with any of their mainstay beers for $4!

The Poet is one of NHBC’s mainstay beers, brewed all year. It is a nice example of an oatmeal stout and it’s one of my favorite beers. It pours black with red highlights and a nice tan head that sticks around for a long time. The aroma is roasty and chocolatey, although neither of those are main components of the flavor profile. Some dark fruit comes across on the nose, too.

The Poet has the slick mouthfeel you’d associate with an oatmeal stout (coming from the oatmeal itself) and the light carbonation adds to its silky texture. There is a good balance in this beer between malty flavors and the hops and bitterness that comes from the dark roasting of the malts. Up front, the beer is very balanced, with dark fruit predominating, then in the aftertaste a nice, pleasantly warm roastiness settles in. This is not the dry, carbonized roast of some stouts, but a mild, easy flavor that doesn’t leave you feeling like you just sucked on some charcoal.

The Poet isn’t the most complex oatmeal stout by a long shot, but it is a nice, easy drinker at 5.2%ABV and I enjoy it every time I drink it. It pairs really great with pretty much any kind of food outside of the lightest fair, so it’s no wonder it is perennially one of New Holland’s most popular beers.

I have been an extremely lazy blogger, but quite frankly, I also haven’t been drinking much beer over the last few months. You’d think, “OK, it’s summer, the guy will actually drink some beer” but I haven’t been drinking much to start with, and what I have been drinking seems to mostly be rum for some reason. In any case, I am still working through some old stuff in my “cellar” and wanted to revisit a couple beers that I’ve had the past two days.

The first is Big Sky Brewing’s limited release stout, Slow Elk, which I originally reviewed here. That review was from December 2009, so the beer has some age now. This time around, comparing my previous tasting notes, I am still getting an astringency, way, WAY back in the aftertaste (like if I wait a minute or so between sips). I think the oatmeal “slickness” is a little more evident, giving it a more pleasant body than I previously thought and while no chocolate or coffee notes really appeared out of thin air, the roasty flavors are still nice. I think this would actually be a good complement to some lighter fare that you don’t generally pair with a stout, maybe even like a blackened fish or chicken dish. I think I get a little cherry in the flavor, too, which could be a component of some oxidation in the beer, which isn’t always a bad thing especially on dark beers. So, for the Slow Elk, I think some age definitely did it some good.

The beer I had yesterday was the Breckenridge 471 double IPA, which I reviewed originally here, and then revisited once here. Well, I’m back again! I’m not exactly sure how old this beer is now, other than these bottles were given to me in March 2010. The beer still has all the alcohol, of course, still pretty well-hidden (flavor-wise. Buzz-wise, it’s about as subtle as dropping a sack of bricks on your foot). The hops have diminished a bit, but I’ll bet I could appreciate this effect a LOT more if I had a fresh bottle to do a side-by-side comparison tasting with. The hops seemed to take on a little bit of a cat-pee aroma and flavor, which isn’t all that unusual for hops, actually, as bad as it sounds! It was still plenty good to drink, but, no big surprise for a highly-hopped beer, this one is better fresher.

So, there you have it, by coincidence we have one beer that seems better with age and one that doesn’t. As a general rule of thumb, IPA’s and other high hopped beers are best drunk fresh while darker beers, in GENERAL, tend to age more gracefully. Certainly true in this case.

The Toronado is probably one of the most famous bars in the country. I heard about it through listening to Craft Beer Radio, and it has probably been made most famous by its annual barley wine event. I was in San Francisco for a work weekend a few weeks ago and on my day of touring San Franciso, the Toronado was the grand finale. By some miracle I made it back to San Jose, 60 miles outside of SF!

The Toronado is, by all standards, a dive bar. It is in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, so expect to see lots of colorful people and an interesting atmosphere. It’s too bad they don’t have street seating out on the sidewalk because I can think of fewer places that would be as much fun to have a few drinks and watch people.

The bar is dark, the service is non-existant, they don’t serve food and it’s a ton of fun! When I was there, the place just kept getting busier and busier, and they had one bartender and no servers. So, 150 or so people all had to crowd the bar to shout drink orders to the guy. The music was good, with a mix of Iron Maiden, Guns n’ Roses and other classic bands. The people were friendly, and it was probably the most laid-back dive bar I’ve been to. They don’t serve any food, so people either bought their own with them or ordered sandwiches from the shop next door and brought them in.

Now, let’s talk about the beer. The Toronado has some good taps, and things we’d never see here in KC, but it didn’t blow me out of the water completely. They did seem to be having a happy hour, though (I was there for a few hours, and the whole time I was there my beers were $1 off), which was VERY cool for a Saturday. Try finding that anywhere!

I started off with, what else, Pliny the Elder, the world famous double IPA brewed by Russian River Brewing Company. This beer weighs in at 8%ABV, but it felt stronger than that to me. A full pint was, get this, $4. The hops were piney and resiny, West Coast style, but without some of the grapefruity and floral notes I also like in IPA’s. I got tired of it about halfway into the glass, and was a little disappointed I had wasted so much sobriety on what to me was a run of the mill double IPA that you can find 20 more like at any bottle shop in town. Maybe I’m a heretic!

I decided to change up my tactics a lot on my next round, heading straight for the cask ale side of the menu. The Toronado had about 4-6 cask ales on hand pumps while I was there. I can’t honestly say I have ever had a cask conditioned beer before this, so I was really excited. I went with a brewery I’d never heard of, and a beer I’d never heard of, Twist of Fate by Moonlight Brewing Company. After screaming to the bartender several times, I learned that Twist of Fate is an English style “bitter,” basically an amber ale meant as a session beer, more or less. He warned me, “It’s served warm, at room temperature.” Perfect! My kind of place! Moonlight was started in 1992 and only makes about 1000 barrels of beer per year, almost all of which are kegged/casked and sold off Bay Area taps. I was really happy to be drinking something so local!

The beer was served as promised, and cost me a whopping $3. Yes, $3 for a pint of artisanal, local, cask beer. Crazy, huh? It was perfect at that temperature. Had a bit of a bite to it, sort of sour, but not like an acetic acid sour. It definitely wasn’t a “sour beer” by any stretch, but it had that type of bite, with a nice malt and hops balance. At 5.6%ABV it was a little strong for a session beer, but it was smooth and delicious and one of the best beers I’ve ever had. With a menu full of awesome beers in front of me, I liked it enough to have a second one!

I was buzzing pretty good by now and I probably should have gone next door to eat something, but I literally had the best seat in the house, so I didn’t want to give up my perch. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to have Lost Abbey’s Serpent’s Stout. LIke Russian River, Lost Abbey is a famous California brewery and it was a treat to sample their beer. This one was served in a tulip glass, also at a very appropriate temperature for an imperial stout (which for me, is around room temperature, again). I think this one was a measly $4, too!

At 10.5%ABV, this ended up being a big mistake. I honestly can’t tell you much about the beer other than it was good. I was flying pretty high by now and adding a big beer to it all didn’t help, plus I was engaged fully in conversation with my new friends I met at the bar and wasn’t really taking tasting notes. I read some complaints that this beer can be “hot” meaning sharp with the alcohol, and I didn’t notice that, possibly because I was two sheets to the wind by this time.

Not wanting to call it quits just yet, I finished my afternoon drinking session with another Moonlight offering on cask, their IPA called Bombay by Boat. At 5.9% this just added insult to injury and, again, I have no brilliant tasting notes to offer, but it had a nice bitterness, some balance from the malt, and was really smooth and easy to drink being on cask. It cost $3. I could have stayed all night!

Somehow, I managed to leave the Toronado, catch a bus back downtown, walk to the Caltrain station and get back to San Jose! Amazing! 🙂

The Toronado was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it to anybody who is visiting San Francisco. Bring some food and plan on staying for a while. My original intent was to go a mile west of the Toronado to the actual Haight-Ashbury intersection and eat dinner at the Magnolia, which is supposed to serve excellent beer and food, but I was pretty much stumbling out of the place and just getting back to where I needed to be seemed like the best idea of all. The best dive bar in the world, except for the Cigar Box, that is!

Now that Sprecher seems to be getting more widely available in Kansas City, I don’t mind reviewing this previously obscure (for around here) beer so much! I actually purchased this bottle in Omaha, NE, a few months ago. A four-pack of Sprecher’s trademark 16oz bottles was something like $7!

Sprecher makes some really good beers. I used to associate the brewery with someone I didn’t particularly like from my past (who turned me onto the brewery), so I’m glad I’ve been trying more of their beers and rediscovering this superb Wisconsin brewery over the part few months!

This beer is from Sprecher’s Premium Reserve lineup. It is a Russian Imperial Stout (you can tell this because the brewery cleverly named it “Russian Imperial Stout”), which is a style of stout originally brewed in the UK with extra alcohol (higher gravity) and hops to be exported to the Baltic courts. The “imperial” designation comes from the rumor that these beers were especially popular with Russian royalty.

This is an extremely popular style of beer in the craft brewing scene and for good reasons… stouts are delicious, all sorts of adjuncts like fruits, coffee and chocolate can be added to play with the flavors, and they are fun to drink. What’s not to like?

I poured this beer into my large (16oz) nonic pint glass (the large pint glasses with the bulge near the mouth). The beer poured absolutely pitch black with just the faintest of red highlights in the very corners of the glass. The head was the brown color of the crema on an espresso, deep and rich and fluffy like shaving cream.

I got a little aroma of roast and maybe coffee initially, but once the head disappeared I couldn’t get anything for aroma, and this time I don’t think it’s my nose!

The beer is an easy drinker, with little carbonation and a smooth, silky mouthfeel. If I didn’t know better, I would think it has oatmeal in it because of the texture, but none is listed on the website. This beer weighs in at 32 IBU’s and 8.5% ABV, so it’s not a mammoth stout, but it’s no lightweight, either.

There is some sweetness and dry roast on the front end of the sip, while the hops sort of come in later in the sip from the sides and meet up for a big finish with a little bitterness from the roasted malts. This is a well-balanced beer, with a nice finish that isn’t too dry or too sweet. There are hints of chocolate in the flavor, too, but I don’t pick up any coffee-like flavors despite getting some on the initial aroma. A nice caramel flavor on the aftertaste.

As far as imperial stouts go, this is fairly one-dimensional when compared to something like Bell’s Expedition Stout, for example. I’d compare it more to something like Old Rasputin or even a standard stout like Anderson Valley’s incredible Barney Flatts Oatmeal Stout. That said, it’s a very enjoyable beer, very easy to drink and, after having only 1-2 beers in the past four weeks, something with a noticeable kick for my now lightweight status! This would be a good bar stout for when you’re socializing, not forcing you to think too hard about what you’re tasting. Another winner from Sprecher!

The answer, of course, is drink ’em! Left Hand Brewing Company is a nice brewery out of Longmont, CO. Today I’m reviewing their classic Milk Stout, as well as a Vol. 1 of their new Fade to Black Series, an export stout. One of their most famous beers is their Milk Stout, a great example of the “sweet stout” style. The sweet stout style (also referred to as milk stouts or cream stouts) gets its designation from the addition of lactose to the beer. Lactose is an unfermentable sugar, so the yeast in beer that eats the sugars and poops alcohol (more or less) can’t do anything with lactose. As a result, the lactose sweetens the beer. Since lactose is the primary sugar found in dairy products, hence the “milk” and “cream” terms used to describe these stouts.

Left Hand’s version is a classic. The beer pours black (some very minute highlights in the very bottom of my snifter) and the off-white head disappears quickly. The aroma on this beer is awesome, smelling mostly of coffee and sweet chocolate. It’s one of my favorite aroma beers. Milk Stout weighs in at 5.9% alcohol and 25 IBU’s. The flavor is roasty malt with a silky mouthfeel that is shockingly similar to milk! The nice texture of the beer comes from a relatively low carbonation, the lactose, as well as some oats in the beer.

Milk Stout is difficult, for me, to drink slowly. The smoothness of the beer and it’s sweetness make it a chugger! As far as the sweetness goes, it’s not quite like a dessert beer, and there is some good bitterness from the roasted malts, but it still leans toward a sweet finish, as opposed to a dry stout. This would be great with ice cream and probably something like strawberries. I highly recommend this beer if you’ve never had it.

Fade to Black

In the past, Left Hand’s winter seasonal beer was always Snow Bound Spiced Strong Ale. This year, they decided to retire the beer and start a new series, called Fade to Black (reflecting the overall lack of sunlight from October through March). According to Left Hand, the name and packaging will be the same each year, but the style will vary. For the inaugural beer, Left hand chose an export style stout.

Export (or “foreign”) stouts are stouts that were originally brewed for export to foreign countries, particularly England’s colonies in the tropics. To survive the trip better, these beers are brewed for a higher gravity (more alcohol), which acts as a preservative. Export stouts can be of the dry or sweet style. Vol. 1 weighs in at 8.5%ABV, 30 IBU’s and according to Left Hand, “Pours black with licorice, espresso bean, molasses and black cardamom notes.” They also add the marketingspeak that the flavors “give way to a feeling of self-loathing, burnt opportunities and smoked relationships.” The overall marketing package of the Fade to Black series is a little unusual, with the dark imagery in the marketing language, the neo-tribal label and being named after a Metallica song about suicide, but maybe depression and suicide sell lots of beer!

Volume 1 poured, as you would guess, black as coal. No highlights to speak of in this beer. It’s opaque and black and despite a vigorous pour had a very small tan head that faded quickly (common for higher alcohol beers). The aroma on this beer is typical stout aroma, with roasty malt, maybe a little cocoa, and a subtle hint of smoke.

Contrary to the aroma, the first sip really nailed me with the smoke flavor. This is just like the smokiness that is found in a lot of Scottish ales, so I think it a smoky note from the deeply roasted malts, rather than the addition of any smoke flavoring agents or even smoked malts. The smokiness really comes through in the second half of the sip. This is a neat beer because the flavors seem to really “light up” different parts of my tongue, and they seem layered, almost as if the brewer designed one to develop after another.

The sip starts with a heavy mouthfeel, with some roastiness on the front of my tongue, then both sides of my tongue and cheeks seem to come alive with a good amount of bitterness (a little hop bitterness, but mostly from the roasted malts), and then the smoke rolls in and hits the back of my tongue and palate.

As with Scottish ales, the smokiness seems to die down with each subsequent sip as my palate fatigues. The beer is nice and smooth with a hint of carbonation, and for an 8.5% ABV the alcohol is not apparent at all. This is a fairly complex beer and well-suited to being drunk in quiet contemplation. I look forward to seeing what Left Hand thinks up for Fade to Black in 2010!