The beer geeks are at it again. The theme for this month’s meeting of the try-to-taste-every-beer-in-the-world tasting group was “Darkness.” No, not the much sought after imperial stout from Surly Brewing Company. Rather this was an exploration of the murky and menacing world of dark beer. The assignment for each member was to bring “dark” beers that they had never tried. The idea of “darkness” was left intentionally vague to encourage a bit of freewheeling interpretation and exploration. As a result we sampled a huge variety of inky brews from imperial stouts to fruited porters to smoked bock and strong Belgians, with one particularly “interesting” grape flavored concoction that I will describe later. It was a beautiful evening, so we met in my garden. There is nothing like sitting in the back yard on a nice spring night drinking great beers with good friends.
We had a great selection of beers for this gathering. There were a few clear standouts, but overall the quality was very high. Even the couple of disappointments had more to do with problematic handling than the quality of the beers themselves. I’ll start with those disappointments.
The first beer of the night was a two year old bottle of Sprecher Imperial Stout. I won’t say that this beer was actually disappointing, because it was quite good, if a bit light for the style. Loaded with dark fruit, chocolate roast, and molasses, with a hint of soy from aging, I would gladly have quaffed a pint of this. However, when considered in comparison to the many other great beers of the night, it didn’t quite hold up. A bottle of De Struise Black Albert proved to be quite disappointing. I reviewed this beer on the Perfect Pint website and found it to be a thick, chocolate and brown sugar wonder. I did however detect a hint of sour funkiness as it warmed. I think that the funk had overtaken the bottle that we sampled here. Gone was the rich chocolaty splendor. This example had a definite roasted apple cider character with pronounced sourness. It was not at all the beer I had tasted a few months ago.
A real disappointment for me was the Goose Island Cherry Wood Smoked Bock. Brought back from the brewpub in a growler, this beer did not travel well. I downed many a pint of this during my two-month stay in Chicago earlier this year. I know that it is a fantastic beer. Unfortunately, this example tasted a bit like a meaty band-aid with none of the sweet caramel malt and woody fruit smoke that I admired so much at the pub. If you are in Chicago, I recommend it. But maybe don’t try to bring any back to your friends.
Now to the good stuff. Oh, where to begin? There were so many great beers sampled that I can really only touch on the real standouts here. I’ll do my best. I was surprised by Tres Blueberry Stout from Dark Horse Brewing. I reviewed the One and Two of their five-beer stout series and found them to have an unpleasant, over-the-top, acrid roast. These were beers that I nearly could not finish. I brought this beer expecting not to like it. Instead I found a balanced and very fruity stout with a huge blueberry aroma. The blueberry flavor was complemented by a nice coffee roast and hints of spicy cinnamon in the finish. As long as I’m talking about flavored stouts, I have to mention Southern Tier’s Mokah. This bottle was 22 ounces of chocolate and coffee heaven. Smells of fresh brownies and QuickTM come gushing out as soon as the bottle is opened. The gigantic sweet flavors were compared to drinking brownies or “a gallon of chocolate milk.” This is definitely an after-dinner beer, but what an after-dinner beer it is.
For the Belgians the real standout to me was Terrible from Canada’s Unibroue. This 10.5% Belgian Strong Dark ale had delicious fruity marshmallow aromas and luscious flavors of sugar, raisins, bananas and spice, always with this creamy marshmallow character in the background. It was balanced by a slight lactic acidity that kept it from being too rich. I bought myself a bottle the very next day. We were treated to a bottle of 2004 vintage Westvleteren 12. This beer is different every time you taste it. This particular example was super fruity with big cherry aromas and flavors. The fruitiness was balanced by light chocolate notes and a sharp, dry finish. This beer was described variously as having “the sensation of being dry and sweet at the same time” and “like drinking flowers.” It reminded me of chocolate covered cherries. Complex and delicious.
There’s always one in every group and this group is no exception. The frightening beer of the evening was a “purple flavored malt liquor” called Dragon Joose. This 9.9% ABV grape monstrosity is produced by United Brands International, the folks responsible for ChiquitaTM bananas. Wikipedia describes it as “berry inspired flavors with caffeine, ginseng and taurine” and “certified colors.” We described it as high-test grape soda. This is a drink designed to mess you up fast.
The beers tasted were Sprecher Imperial Stout, Dark Horse Tres, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Malheur 12, Westvleteren 12, Saint-Feuillien Brun, Avery Out of Bounds Stout, Tyranena Paradise by the Dashboard Lights Cherry Porter, Flag Porter, Boulevard Smokestack Series Imperial Stout, DeStruise Black Albert, Sam Adams Imperial Stout, Southern Tier Mokah, Goose Island Cherry Wood Smoked Bock, Unibroue Terrible, Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout, Xingu Black Beer, Rogue Double Black, Brewdog Riptide Stout, and Dragon Joose. Those in attendance were Michael Agnew, Wilbur Ince, Jonathan Crist, Gera Exire LaTour, Al Boyce, Paul Dienhart, Joel Stitzel, and Mark Johnson.