Sweet Stouts – Priming up for EBF

I’ve neglected to follow up on the rest of our NC trip, and already we’ve already finished up another…Extreme Beer Fest!

I started this post on Friday, and it just goes to show that drinking and blogging don’t mix, as I never finished writing about the sweet stouts that stood out on that day as terrific primers for the festival ahead.

We stopped in Willimantic, CT at the old post office, which is now Willimantic Brewing Company, for lunch. I totally enjoyed my first S.W.A.K. Stout (5.4% ABV) so much that instead of trying something new, I had another! This is described by the brewery as an unfiltered Black Ale mashed with seven malts, hopped with Saaz and “Sealed With A Kiss” of vanilla. It was outstanding!

When we arrived in Boston, we started out by sharing a growler of Captain Lawrence Espresso Stout before taking the T to Redbones for barbeque and their 24 taps, including a large selection of Sixpoint beers (I must admit I ate vegetarian and drank water from a mason jar, so I don’t have many comments on the ‘que or the beers based on the tiny sips I had…)

Our final stop for the night was Cambridge Brewing Company where I had the CaCow! Chocolate Milk Stout (6.4% ABV). Brewed with barley, oats and an addition of lactose, the description says CaCow! was additionally aged with cacao nibs from Taza Chocolate in Somerville, and house-made vanilla extract to balance the roast with a little extra sweetness. We had terrible service at CBC – pretty much ignored by the wait staff – but every beer at the table was delightful.

It was a great first night in Boston, with many, many great beers to follow!

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HopFest and StoutFest

Two private tasting parties yielded a great weekend beer list! Some of the things we pulled out were pretty amazing, and our party hosts provided an outstanding setting for tasting.

The HopFest

On Friday night, a small group of us gathered to share growlers. Hops were out in full force to make up this list.

We started with Rock Bottom Sub Zero IPA, which Ffej and Brandi picked up earlier in the day at King of Prussia. It’s a Simcoe-hop-based IPA, and had a really nice balance of piney and citrusy hop flavors. As one of the Brewmaster’s specials, it doesn’t appear on the website, but reviews can be read at Beer Advocate.

Next it was Pure Hoppiness from Alpine Beer Company. Alpine uses hops in the boil, runs it through a  hopback, and also dry-hops this Double IPA. This was a brighter, sweeter IPA. Both Ffej and D mentioned tropical and citrus fruit overtones; I thought the pine-sap sweetness and light malt flavors were in perfect harmony.

For our third offering, we opened a growler of Surly Grit 16. This is a Double IPA which was released as a growler-only special in recognition of loyal customers during the last days in which Surly was allowed to sell growlers due to current MN law. (In 2008, Surly sold over 3500 barrels of beer; MN law only allows off-sale licenses for breweries producing less than 3500 barrels. They can’t get the license in 2009 without cutting production, so no more growler sales, no more Darkness Day, and no more SurlyFest until/unless the law is changed.)

30 bbls of 16 Grit were brewed, but a couple were sucked up during the dry-hopping process. 901 growlers were sold on the first day.  16 Grit was kettle hopped with Warrior, Amarillo and Glacier hops, then dry-hopped twice with Glacier and Amarillo. It came out to 9% ABV (110 IBUs), and the folks at Surly described it as well balanced, caramel-oat malt flavors and huge orange lemon aroma finishing with a pithy bitterness.

D and I had a growler lined up for ourselves, but it slipped away. Luckily, Dain was able to score one and kind enough to share it. (There is a video of someone – not us – enjoying a growler…it picks up after minute #2.) It was a real treat just to get a glass.

Finally, we had Hopsickle Triple IPA from Moylan’s, which D picked up in a swingtopbottle. Brewed withTomahawk, Cascade and Centennial hops, this is a potent beverage with incredible hop stickiness.

I must make a special note here to say that we were pleased to see Troeg’s Nugget Nectar on tap at The Old Corner Hotel in Williamsport on Saturday night. Unfortunately, the staff there don’t seem to know what a great beer they’ve got (it doesn’t even have a unique tap handle.) But we did!

The StoutFest

Our friends David and Sarah hosted a Sunday stout tasting as an opportunity to clear out their beer cellar a little bit. It was a really fun event because they organized the afternoon as a blind tasting. We started with the line-up of five Coffee Stouts and one lone doppelbock, followed by 16 Imperial Stouts. I know this sounds like a lot, but the servings were very small with such a nice group of people doing the tasting.

David masked the bottles well, and poured a small amount for each person, and then we were asked to rate the beer on a scale of 1 to 10, as well as name the beer (it was a multiple choice test.) What an interesting experiment – a test of our own senses and perceptions. When the real names of the beers were revealed at the end, many of us were surprised at our guesses as well as our ratings.

Finally, the scores were averaged, and we were all sent a copy of the scored results. Here they are, scored from highest to lowest:

Coffee Stouts

  1. Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast (1st bottling); Overall score of 7.73
  2. Pisgah Valdez; Overall score of 7.5
  3. Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel; Overall score of 7.32
  4. Alesmith Speedway Stout; Overall score of 7.08
  5. Ithaca Kaffinator; Overall score of 6.7
  6. Deschutes Black Butte XX; Overall score of 6.25
  7. Mikkeller Black Hole; Overall score of 4.93

Imperial Stouts

  1. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout 2008 ;Overall Score of 9.0
  2. Foothills Sexual Chocolate; Overall score of 7.63
  3. Amager Bryghus Hr. Frederiksen; Overall score of 7.44
  4. (tie) Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal-Imperial Stout (2007); Overall score of 7.08  and Pennichuck Pozharnik Whiskey Barrel Aged Brewers Reserve; Overall score of 7.08 (more higher marks)
  5. Three Floyds Dark Lord (2007); Overall score of 7.04
  6. (tie) Stone Imperial Russian Stout 2008  Overall score of 7.0 and Deschutes The Abyss (2006); Overall score of 7.0 (more higher marks)
  7. Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout; Overall score of 6.73
  8. (tie) Stoudt’s Barrel Aged Fat Dog (2008 whiskey); Overall score of 6.54 and Oskar Blues Ten FIDY; Overall score of 6.54 (more higher marks)
  9. Left Hand Imperial Stout; Overall score of 6.42
  10. Highland Imperial Black Mocha Stout; Overall score of 6.23
  11. Odell Imperial Stout; Overall score of 6.12
  12. Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (2007); Overall score of 6.08
  13. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 2008  Overall score of 6.0

At some point I may go back and add links to these, but it’s another one of those nights where I stayed up too late.

Many, many thanks to our hosts for providing such a nice selection of beers, an interesting event and great food and coffee (fresh from Costa Rica!)

Dreaming of Chocolate

Tonight I’m escaping the cold, driving rain by sitting inside enjoying a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (limited bottling – vintage ’04-’05.)  It has a rich,  sharp and roasty chocolate flavor. The complexity of chocolate, hops, and a subtle alcohol bite is exciting to the palate, and stimulates my brain to consider the number of lovely chocolate-inspired beers out there.

One of my new favorites is Southern Tier Imperial Choklat Stout, which is part of the Blackwater Series of big beers. Weighing in at 11% ABV, this amazing beverage is brewed with bittersweet Belgian chocolate, and while loved by many, is a polarizing brew. People who love it, LOVE it. Others say it is too sweet and not appealing at all. My initial impressions were that it is a smooth, creamy chocolate flavor, much like a Frosty(TM) or, as I drank more of it, the chocolaty center of a Tootsie Pop – the chocolate ones, and just at the point where you cross over from the pop to the Tootsie Roll inside. I actually loved this anonymous review in Motif magazine:

You might be seeing Oompa Loompas if you don’t treat this 11% ABV Wonka bar with care. Most chocolate stouts hint at the chocolate, Choklat puts it right up front and it slides right down yer hole. The milk chocolate is balanced nicely with some piney hops, and hints of roasted barley and coffee.

And then there was the recent announcement of Dogfish Head Theobroma which will debut during Philly Beer Week.  This is a 10% ABV brew based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras and will contain cacao powder, cacao nibs, honey, chilies and annatto (an aromatic seed.)  Patrick McGovern, senior research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (and acquaintance to D through the birding world), performed the analysis. He is the same man responsible for DFH Midas Touch Golden Elixir, and ancient honey beer based on analysis of contents found in the tomb of King Midas, and DFH Chateau Jiahu – a rice, honey and fruit beer with it’s foundation in ancient China.

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed the Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence on tap.  This is a lighter stout made with Belgian dark chocolate. It was lightly bitter and not at all heavy or sweet. And it is hard not to enjoy the well balanced Rogue Chocolate Stout, which was originally created for export to Japan (What’s that all about?!? Create it and export it to MY house!)  This is one I recently enjoyed from the bottle with friends.

In December 2007, I was thrilled to find Choco Latte Porter from San Diego Brewing Company which is poured on nitrogen (the tap handle at Liar’s Club was a Hershey Bar!) This thin porter had surprisingly strong chocolate overtones and hints of dark-roast coffee.  And I’m always pleased to be presented with Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. This thick, black beverage features a fabulous blend of chocolate and coffee bean, while maintaining a sweet, smooth body with a modestly warm alcohol burn.

I’m hoping that a creative brewery like Pisgah or Weyerbacher might try a chocolate stout sometime soon. Maybe for the next cold weather season?  Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to the day we get to brew our own next concoction – C.O.W. Stout – an oatmeal stout brewed with chocolate and put into secondary fermentation on a bed of toasted walnuts.

Cleaning Out the Basement

We’ve had a friend in town for the week, and on Thursday evening, while sitting at the Brewhouse Grille enjoying Russian River Pliny the Elder, D turned to me and said, “Let’s have a party – tomorrow night!”  And so we did…

We called a few friends – some who were free and unfortunately, some who were not – and picked up the worst of the clutter.  Jerry brought veggies from his organic garden in Venango County (romaine, celery, shallots, red onions, acorn squash), so D whipped up a salad and put together a great stew in the crockpot (I turned the squash into a fabulous soup for Saturday at the hawkwatch.)  

We thawed out a loaf of Zingerman’s farm bread.  D went to Wegman’s for cheese, olives and the like, and he scoured our basement looking for a few prize bottles of beer, as well as a few certain to please the palates of our intended guests.
Smoked Porter
This resulted in a great group of friends from birding, beer drinking and concerts gathered around our table for hearty food and a lengthy tasting.  Below is a complete list of the bottles opened for the table tasting:

  • Russian River Brewing – Damnation
  • Brouwerij Het Anker – Gouden Carolus ~ Carolus D’Or– Grand Cru Of The Emperor(brewed once a year, on the 24th of February, birthday of Charles the Fifth)
  • Alaskan Brewing Co. IPA
  • AleSmith IPA
  • Butte Creek Organic Revolution 10th Anniversary Imperial IPA
  • Moylans Hopsickle Imperial Ale (Triple Hoppy)
  • Cisco Celebration Libation (no year at the moment…no active website found)
  • Alaskan Brewing Co. Smoked Porter * (2006; yummy with nova lox and bread)
  • AlesSmith Speedway Stout
  • Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher Oatmeal-Imperial Stout

The only disappointment of the night was Victory V-Ten (brewed and bottled September 12, 2002) – this beer was corked, caged and carious (I know…that word applies to teeth, but it sounds good here!)  This was, unfortunately not well aged, which resulted in a big bottle of vinegar.

D and the Line-Up

And of course, we poured several other interesting things – bottles for individuals to enjoy.  We also tasted boilo (boilo : a popular homemade Yuletide beverage – ingredients include orange and lemon juice, honey, cloves, caraway seeds, and large amounts of whiskey; served hot in shot glasses) from a friend in the coal region, D’Reyes Peach Liquor which we brought back from Mexico and St. Clair Vineyards Port from NM. *There was also Glenlivet Nadurra single malt Scotch which paired so well with the Alaskan Smoked Porter.  Thanks, Dakotablue!!

The “starter” hit food was Nancy’s yummy salsa, and Marcy brought an array of beautiful and tasty desserts from the Pennsylvania Bakery which made a lovely finish to the night.

Breakfast Stout-a-Like

Oatmeal Breakfast Stout

It was November 19 when we brewed this one, and I stumbled upon the photos tonight.  You can see the oil slick on top of this rich, dark ale.  It’s an oatmeal stout brewed with two types of coffee (Kona and Sumatran) and both milk and dark chocolate shavings.  Scott suggests, ” it might pick you up as much as it knocks you down!”  The scent during the brewing process was amazing, and I can’t wait until it’s ready to drink.

Old Capitol Brew Works (Iowa City, IA)

From Flossmoor, IL, we drove several hundred miles on I-80 to Iowa City, IA.  It’s a college town, and a pretty safe bet for affordable accommodations.  Plus, Iowa City has a brewpub, and we needed dinner!

Old Capitol Brew Works is in a little “restaurant row”; the middle facilities are the nice restaurant and the college pub.  The restaurant is called “The Brewery”, and labeled by Fodor’s as “arguably the most beautiful restaurant in Iowa City” (although Fodor’s also mentioned linen tablecloths which we never saw) and the bar is called “Old Capitol Public House”.  The dining area was adorned with dark wood paneling and crafted accents, and a large polished wood bar stands between the dining area and the brass brew kettle and mash tun.  The hardwood floor was decorated in two-tone and embellished with hops.  Brass chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and globe lights lined the walls. The large glass windows, wood trim, and the very high ceilings gave this 1800’s factory a feel of open elegance.  The Public House area was a college bar with loud music and pool tables.  The buildings had distinct differences, and we went for quiet and reserved.

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