So replace wow with what from Pulp Fiction and I am simultaneously Samuel L. Jackson with a gun and Brett, the poor bloke with the Big Kahuna cheeseburger. I consider myself a fairly intellectual individual, but sometimes I just downright annoy myself with my lack of vocabulary in certain situations. Saturday was no different. Cue my final three reviews...And thank you to Mark, Ken, and Virgil who brought most of the beers for a fantastic tasting.
Boulevard Bully Porter: ABV: 5.4% First beers up are the porters. Like a wine tasting, it is always best to line up beers from lightest to heaviest. And we all knew that once we tasted those Scotch barrel aged stouts, well, game over for our nose and palate.
Our first selection was this porter from Kansas City Missouri. The nose doesn't reveal too much, but there is a vibrancy there that was unexpected and refreshing. Orange peel/oil with a touch of herb. Interesting and certainly not a description you would use very often on a porter! The palate was smooth, but with a tobacco, ashy bitterness on the finish. This too was surprising to me, as it is certainly the most bitter porter I have tasted so far.
As you may know, or have noted in my reviews, many of the porters I have encountered have had sweeter finishes, with dominant notes of maple and brown sugar. With the exception of the Gonzo Imperial Porter by Flying Dog, with its vibrant hoppy nose, the bright fruit aspect has not been an aspect I have seen before now.
THIS is why it is so important to taste so many different styles and producers in this challenge. To see that wide range of aroma and flavor profiles smashed together back-to-back makes all the difference in the world to comparison reviewing.
2009 Schell's Snowstorm Baltic Porter: ABV: 5.8% These guys in New Ulm, Minnesota have been making beer since 1860 (Wow! and how have I never heard of them before?), and each winter their recipe for the Snowstorm is different. Only available in November, December, and January, this year's special brew is a Baltic Porter.
So WHAT is a Baltic Porter? Originally named for its production in the countries of Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Poland (and other duh, Baltic countries and states) these more robust versions of porters were made to withstand sea voyages, and were hence dubbed Baltic Porters. Usually with an alcohol content of 7-10%, these porters are no joke. Just see Sinebrychoff Porter for a PERFECT example of the style. Nowadays, breweries all over the world, including those in the United States, are making "Baltic Porters."
What a different nose from the previous porter...Maple syrup is the most predominant note, with a touch of baking spice and stay with me here, a farm quality. Virgil said wet hay, and I was thinking grass, but it was hard to pin down. To me, this is NOT a surprising aroma, considering this beer was made in farmland, USA, Minnesota.
Just like in wine, environment can have a role to play in the production of beer, albeit a less noticable one. Meaning, you can brew a fantastic, delicious beer in pristine conditions almost anywhere, without necessarily trademarking a particular place of production. (Although I have learned that proper water is key and some places ARE just better than others!)
So here with this farm aroma, which by the way I LOVE in wine and like here, I wonder if they used any wild yeast in their fermentation. Hmmm.
BEER # 70
Schlafly Oatmeal Stout: ABV: 5.7% Hmmm x2. Is this an Oatmeal Stout? While there is some dry oat aroma on the nose, there is also a surprising, yet not offensive funkiness. Not skunked and not brettanomyces (that cute little rocket "spoilage" yeast I have come to love!), its definitely herbal.
Imagine rubbing marigolds between your fingers. That smell, not as much green pungency as geraniums, but definitely in the same category. Ok, beer geeks with FAR more knowledge than I, what is that coming from? Hops? They don't give you any clue on the bottle or website. Or am I wrong, and this beer is flawed or spoiled in some way? Speak up if you know.
The mouthfeel is extremely soft, with almost a watery finish. As Mark described it, "unremarkable." Yep, I agree. You gotta also remember folks the deliciousness of the Samuel Smith's and Goose Island's Oatmeal Stouts by comparison. Those are tough acts to follow. And if you are going to make an Oatmeal Stout, going up against those powerhouses should be a MAJOR consideration in your production and output. For all of those Sammy Smith fans out there, and there are MILLIONS, you have to really show your stuff. And unfortunately, this one just fell way short.
Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout: ABV: 10.6% NOW we get to the heavy hitters. HOLY CHOCOLATE. Just bursting out of the glass like cocoa-filled bottle rockets. Imagine how fun that would be...Figs and date make their appearance, and as it warms, and I love this part, smoky, woodsy, fireside aromas. Comfort in a glass I tell you.
Interestingly, they actually use brown sugar in the mix, yet it is not the dominant aroma as I fully expected. Which is fine by me, because who could complain about the delicious nose on it anyway?
On a surprising note, the mouthfeel of this hefty, high-octane beer is light! Smoother and easier than any of us expected, which ultimately makes a beer like this super dangerous. Unlike the Serpent Stout, which should be sipped like a cognac with all of that density, this guy could all too easily be drunk down in gluttonous gulps. I think this is a delicious example of a Russian Imperial Stout, but BEEEEE CAREFUL with that ABV friends....
Brewdog Paradox Speyside: ABV: 10% (Stout aged in Speyside Scotch barrels) I am going to go ahead and say WOW.WOW.WOW on these next two beers. And also say these beers are ESSENTIAL for any beer geek to try. Seriously guys, these are two of the most interesting beers I have ever tried, and I cannot wait to drink them again. But like a fine wine, they are not for everyday, but treat yourselves everyone to these brews.
On the nose, three words. Chocolate.Covered.Raisins. Rich, intense dried fruit with a luscious coating of chocolate. Even if you don't like raisins, this nose is incredible. Add to that pipe tobacco. And it follows through like gangbusters on the palate. With a distinct port-like nose and finish, you have to look again to remember you are drinking a beer.
So smooth and almost creamy, this is a beer you just wanna savor over hours with great conversation and a nearby fire. Doesn't that sound lovely. I literally wanted to jump in the glass and swim around. I say this about wines sometimes too. You know what I mean, when it smells so amazing, you can't think of anything else. Calling all fellow beer fanatics....
Side note/occurance: Sean, Clever's bartender had the idea of smelling the Glenlivet 16 year against this beer. And there it was. A definite commonality in aroma. And...this blew me away....all of the sudden, after smelling the Scotch, the Brewdog had a marked aroma of orange peel. I kid you not! Try it. And you would NOT have smelled this otherwise. Again, I may be geeking out here, but I think that's just downright incredible.
So my advice to you: when you drink these beers, have some Scotch nearby. I guarantee you it will heighten your experience. Ahmmmm.....
Brewdog Paradox Islay: ABV: 10% (Stout aged in Islay Scotch barrels) At the risk of being obnoxious, and I pretty much know I am here, WOW again. This one simply knocked my socks off. TONS of smokiness, just as expected. Smoked meat, smoke from a fire, smoke from tobacco. All there joining hands and singing Kumbaya. But the punk-rock version. Have you seen their website? (Click here to check out this fascinating brewery.)
I am instantly transported back to my 4 years in the mountains of North Carolina at Appalachian State University (a relatively unknown school until we beat Michigan and meteored to recognition. Yeah!!!) All those winter parties with roaring fires, kegs of stouts, happy brownies, dogs, and hippies. That next morning at The Pit (yes, I kid you not, that was the name of our humble home) when the cold mountain air had leaked through the window cracks of that old house and tired bodies, cups, and ashtrays littered the scenery, that long-burnt out fire smoky smell that hung on the air like the icicles outside. That is the smell of this beer...
My final thought: Much like a cigarette, but without the black lungs, this beer might be my new addiction....