Surly Darkness 2015

“Last year’s was better.”

I’ve written on a few occasions about the unreliability of flavor recognition memory. Without lots of practice and a well-developed flavor vocabulary, cialis sale studies have shown that humans just aren’t that good at it. We don’t retain an accurate picture of how a thing tastes for any significant length of time. At best we remember generalities. It was sweeter. It was bitterer. It had a fuller mouthfeel. I liked it or I didn’t.

Context also effects our recollection. What we were doing, advice who we were with, and where we were while tasting a thing can spell the difference between a good and a bad experience of it. What we eat or drink before or after alters how it is received by our taste and olfactory receptors. The whole experience of flavor is a thing of the moment.

If we’re really being honest with ourselves, most of us don’t remember last year’s version.

And that brings me to Surly Darkness. It might be blasphemy to the beer-nerd few who actually read my posts, but I have never been a fan. I’m not that fond of imperial stouts in general, but this one in particular has never caught my fancy. Each year I satisfy myself with one glass in a bar somewhere, just to say I had it. And that is all I need.

Of course, I can’t say exactly what it is that misses the mark on my palate. I remember the first one feeling like a milkshake in my mouth. Sticky sweetness reigned another year. Maybe it was too hoppy once. I really can’t recall.

No, I’ve never been a fan of Surly Darkness…until this year.

Here’s my notes:

Darkness labelDarkness 2015
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
11.5% ABV

Aroma: Malt driven but with ample hop complement. Coffee. Bitter dark chocolate. A good deal of fruit – raisins and dark cherries. Licorice. Black strap molasses. Pine resin hops. Vaporous alcohol.

Appearance: Full, creamy, brown head with excellent retention. Extremely dark brown with ruby highlights. Appears black and opaque unless held to light. Appears brilliantly clear.

Flavor: Full-on dark-chocolate syrup. Licorice and low coffee grounds. Black malt roastiness is moderate, adding a dry-cookie quality to the chocolate. Some brown sugar or molasses sweetness. Sweetness is moderately high. Bitterness is also high, but the full-on malt keeps it in check. Still, it’s balanced. Not too sweet nor too bitter. Hop flavor is high – pine resin with hints of orange citrus. Fruitiness carries over from aroma – raisins and cherries. Alcohol is apparent – spirituous and at times overpowering. Finish is off-dry to semi-sweet with long-lingering chocolate, cherry and pine.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Medium carbonation. Warming.

Overall Impression: Definitely a sipper – a beer to carry you through the night. Big, but balanced. The pine and chocolate roast play off of each other nicely. Alcohol is a bit too much. Not a subtle beer, but full of subtle complexities. I have never been a fan of Darkness, but I’m really digging this. Has the beer changed significantly, or have I? That is the question.

 

Summit Union Series #5: Old Blaggard

My beverage BFF, wine sommelier Leslee Miller, and I have a joke between us. Whenever we’re teaching a class together, she will pour a wine and say something like, “It’s only 9 percent. You can drink it all day.” I on the other hand start talking about taking it easy on the strong beers at around 8 percent alcohol. Oh, the different perspectives of the beer people and the wine people.

But it just goes to show you how appropriate the term “barleywine” really is. It’s beer. It’s made from barley. But it has an alcohol content more common to the world of wine than beer.

Historically both wine and barleywine were served similarly as well. Wine wasn’t always served in the glassware to which we are now accustomed. Once upon a time guests were greeted with a much smaller serving, poured into a tiny little glass. My mother has a collection of these antique wine glasses. I always thought they were for cordials. English lords once served manor-brewed strong beers in similar tiny glasses. Nowadays the beer people have it better. We typically get a ten-ounce pour of barleywine. Five ounces is the normal pour for wine.

Old wine glass

Old wine glass

Old barleywine glass

Old barleywind glass

For Old Blaggard, the fifth beer in the Union Series, Summit Brewing Company has concocted a proper English barleywine. Like English pale ales and IPAs, English barleywines are less focused on hops then their American offspring. Being a lover of malt and yeast, this pleases me. The biscuit and toffee flavors of English malt are among the most pleasing in the beer vocabulary. And I’m quite fond of the orange marmalade notes of English yeast.

The Summit Union Series combines old styles and techniques with new ingredients. Old Blaggard is a single malt/single hop beer featuring Endeavor hops from England and Simpson’s Odyssey malt, both new, at least to this country. It also uses a bit of invert sugar, an ingredient familiar to English brewers for centuries. The sugar adds some color as well as boosting the potency without overwhelming the beer with the sweetness of unfermented sugars.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_BottleUnion Series #5: Old Blaggard
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: English Barleywine
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
10.1% ABV
50 IBU

Aroma: Malt and hops in approximate balance with low, floral alcohol. Malt is strong toffee and honey, giving a moderately high impression of sweetness. Very low biscuit notes. Hops give herbal and citrus notes. Moderately high fruity esters – overripe apricots, golden raisins.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white foam with good retention. Dark amber/mahogany and brilliant.

Flavor: Malt forward with low supporting hop bitterness and sweet alcohol. Malt sweetness is high. Flavors of toffee, caramel, and low biscuit. Hop bitterness is medium-low, just cutting through the sweetness. Hop flavors and esters bring high notes of orange marmalade and some darker, bruised stone fruit notes as well. Golden raisins. Some low earthy character. Alcohol is apparent. Finish is semi-sweet with lingering fruit, caramel, and alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Low carbonation. Warming but not hot.

Overall Impression: A fine sipper. Let it warm a bit to really allow the malt to come through, then pour it into a snifter. The combination of caramel malt with fruity hop and fermentation character is lovely. Alcohol is verging on too much, but doesn’t quite go over the top. It’s great to drink right now, but I’ll stash one or two of these aside and see how they taste in a couple of years.

Schell’s Apparent Horizon

Jace Marti just keeps cranking out winners with the Noble Star Series. Number eight in the series – Apparent Horizon – is made with 35% rye malt. Anyone who has brewed with rye knows that this is a lot of rye. Rye has no husk to create a filter in the mash tun. It turns gummy when steeped. It can make for a nightmare brewing session with an hours-long sparge. But when done well, and the results are oh, seek so good. Rye beers take on the character of that great, German rye bread that I miss so much from my time spent in Germany. But rye bread with lemony, lactic sourness?

Here’s my notes:

NobleStar_ApparentHorizon_062915-150x430Apparent Horizon
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Rye Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
5.1% ABV

Aroma: Predominantly lactic acid with underlying barnyard. Low bready malt comes through with a hint of toast. Black pepper.

Appearance: Full, creamy, just off-white head with fair retention. Medium gold and hazy.

Flavor: Malt is forward with lactic tartness just behind. Sharp, spicy, rye bread. Peppery. Like German rye bread. Low toast or bread crust. Lactic acidity stays just below the malt with lemony high notes. Earthy, barnyard phenols merge nicely with the rye spice. Medium-low perception of bitterness. Finish is very dry with lingering rye and lactic tartness.

Mouthfeel: Light body. High carbonation. Mouthwatering acidity.

Overall Impression: The spice of rye is the star of the show in this one, lending the beer and elegant feel. It’s like drinking a nice bubbly. Put it in a Riedel chardonnay glass and go to town.