Sunday, January 16, 2011

Absolutely Awesome Stout Tasting

Before attending the Troegs Splinter Black release, I was sent a message on BeerAdvocate asking if I'd be up for trading a bottle to a local in Philly.  I said if I got some extra bottles, we could work something out.  However, after seeing what he had to offer we both decided that instead of trading for more bottles to sit on our shelves, lonely and undrunk, it would be a lot more fun to get together and do a tasting where I'd bring a bottle of Splinter Black and he'd bring some stuff.  It may seem odd meeting up with a total stranger, but I'm an odd guy so it evens out.  We met up at The Belgian Cafe just before Christmas to ensure that neither of us was a crazy murderer and, after realizing we were both relatively normal (well, almost normal), decided to do the tasting some time in January.

We talked a bit more after Christmas and came up with the date of January 15th.  He invited a friend of his who also lived nearby and after a few more messages we decided to make it a stout tasting.  For this one, we were doing it at my apartment.  They arrived around 3:15 and, lo and behold, his friend Josh turned out to be one of the random guys we met on the way to the POPE during the Craft Beer Express.  I honestly couldn't believe the coincidence.  Just really random.  We quickly set out the six bottles on the table and couldn't wait to get started.
From left to right, we had: Olde Hickory The Event Horizon, Olde Hickory Hickory Stick Stout, Big Sky Ivan the Terrible, Surly Darkness (finally!), Troegs Splinter Black, and Dock Street Prince Myshkin.
Since all of them were stouts, we couldn't do a lighter to darker beer order so instead we did normal stout, odd stout and then the bourbon barrel aged stuff.  That meant starting with Olde Hickory Hickory Stick Stout.  Olde Hickory is a small brewery in North Carolina and Josh was able to get these bottles since his wife's family is down there and they visit the area often.  Always handy to make new friends who have access to beer unavailable to me.  Next up is to find someone who goes to Minnesota a lot and my plan will be close to completion.  Mwahaha.  Okay back to the beer and away from the crazy.
Nose was full of roast and hoppiness.  Reminded me a bit of the Three Floyds Black Sun stout from last week but with a bit more roast.  Initially very hoppy but the roasted notes from the aroma come forward pretty quickly.  Some lingering bitterness though.  Enjoyable but again I feel it's more a Black IPA than a stout due the high level of hoppiness and thinner body.  Maybe I'm just being affected by all the imperial stouts I've been drinking lately and my viewpoint is skewed.  Who knows.  Craig, aka corby112 on BeerAdvocate, was the best beer nerd of the three of us and actually posted reviews during the tasting.  Figure I'll link them for a comparison to my thoughts.  Here is his for Hickory Stick.

After that we opened a bottle of Dock Street Prince Myshkin.  I picked up this bottle the day before the Splinter Black release along with a bottle of their 2009 Barleywine.
This year's Prince Myshkin was aged in Pinot Noir barrels that previously held their 2009 Barleywine so I was expecting really interesting flavors from it and was not disappointed.  Very sweet nose, almost fruity.  No roast penetrates the wine and wood notes.  First sip followed the aroma with some added earthy flavors.  Definitely can taste the pinot as well as some complexity from the barleywine that was aged previously in the wood but those latter flavors could have just been in my head.  As it warmed up, I got chocolate, some fruit and more wine flavors.  Really quite good and probably the most unique of the six stouts we tasted.  Well done Dock Street.  Here are Craig's thoughts.

Next we opened the 2009 version of Big Sky Ivan the Terrible.  Craig acquired this from one of his many trades and it was awesome of him to bring it.
This is the first of the bourbon barrel stouts and oh man.  Smelled so boozy, almost like a glass of chocolate bourbon.  Really inviting with other notes of vanilla and coffee.  Man.  Initially it was very sweet with a lot of vanilla.  Some bourbon but it blended incredibly well with all the other flavors.  Lots of caramel and even more chocolate as I worked my way through the glass.  The only down note was the boozy quality re-asserted itself near the bottom of the glass and it started to get a little hot.  However, it never quite overpowered the other delicious flavors so it never became unpleasant.  I can't imagine drinking a whole bottle of this by myself, but it was pretty awesome in the amount I had.  Craig's thoughts were fairly similar.

Following that was another bourbon stout, Olde Hickory The Event Horizon.  Josh recently picked this up at a bar in North Carolina.  Thanks for sharing!
Very similar smell to Ivan, bourbon and sweetness.  It's brewed with honey and all three of us felt there were some honey notes in the smell.  First taste gave some bourbon, roast, and vanilla finishing with a bit of caramel and some hop bitterness to balance it all.  Further in chocolate started to appear.  Josh said he thought it was incredibly sweet the first time he had it but this time was a bit milder.  Expect a similar reaction depending on the beer you have previously to this one.  If it's a huge, bitter IPA it is going to make this one feel incredibly sweet but if it's a style similar to Event Horizon, it will taste balanced like today.  Unlike the Ivan, this one stayed well balanced through the entire glass.  Still tasted strong but it would certainly be easier to put down an entire bottle alone.  Craig really enjoyed this as well and thought it tasted very similar to a 2007 Darkness he had at one point which is pretty high praise.

Now we come to the original reason for this tasting, Troegs Splinter Black.
Considering how much I loved Splinter Blue, I was expecting a lot from this one.  Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say I came away a bit disappointed.  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.  Smelled of wood with some roast and a little smokiness.  No vanilla or chocolate that I or the others could find.  First sip was okay.  Tiny bit of vanilla that was quickly overpowered by wood and roast.  As I drank more the vanilla came and went, sip to sip, but I never felt like there was any chocolate in it.  The woody notes overpowered nearly everything.  Josh thought it was over carbonated so maybe with some age on it the beer will get better.  Lets hope so.  All three of us were disappointed in this so it wasn't just me.  This got the lowest score from Craig mostly because it didn't live up to our expectations.  And, really, it wasn't bad, it just didn't impress.

We finished up the official part of the tasting with Surly Darkness, a beer I've been wanting to try for as long as I started paying too much attention to BeerAdvocate.  So like 4 months but still.  Surly is a brewery out in Minnesota with very small distribution.  They actually can almost all of their beers, but once a year they bottle Darkness and release it at the appropriately named Darkness Day.  Very similar to Three Floyds Dark Lord as far as releases go.  Darkness is the reason they are known throughout the US but their other beers are also supposedly very good.  Very cool getting to try Three Floyds Dark Lord one weekend and Surly Darkness the next.  Hopefully I'll get to try The Bruery Black Tuesday and Portsmouth Kate the Great at some point to complete the rare stout series.
Very neat looking bottle.  Apparently Surly creates new artwork for Darkness every year and it's always crazy.  Pour was very nice looking, lots of frothy brown head in the first glass in the picture.  Some bourbon and vanilla followed by hop bitterness in the nose.  Probably the hoppiest smelling of the imperial stouts.  Flavors followed with some sweetness and a little bourbon blending well with hops.  As it warmed some fruitiness appeared which went really well with the rest of the flavors.  This was a very well made beer and I can definitely see why people work hard to get bottles.  Craig had already reviewed this one a long while ago but here it is if you're curious.  Suffice to say, he liked it a lot.

While the official tasting was finished, I had put a bottle of De Struise Black Damnation II: Mocha Bomb in the refrigerator since I knew Craig was interested in trying it so I opened that up next to share with the guys.
Huge coffee nose on this one.  Flavors followed with a lot of coffee mixed with a bit of chocolate.  The coffee blended well with the stout base.  I'll admit, however, my taste buds were a little shot after all those huge stouts so my impressions may have been slightly off.  Glad I have a second bottle so I can try it again on a slightly more normal day.

Finally finished up the day splitting a bottle of Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale with Craig.
Sweet smell with a tiny bit of apple.  Not sure what it's from but the bottle is about 8 months old so maybe that's just the tiny bit of age in it.  Got some caramel along with an interesting spiciness.  I found a similar spiciness in the Dieu du Ciel Equinoxe du Printemps from the other night so maybe it's part of the style.  Tasty beer to finish the night.

Very, very awesome stout tasting.  The quality of the beers were fantastic and it was great getting to share some of my better bottles with people.  I think the favorite of the night for all three of us turned out to be the Olde Hickory The Event Horizon.  Just a really well made beer with a lot of well balanced complexity.  The disappointment was unfortunately the Splinter Black.  As I said, it was a good beer, just not impressive.  Ah well, still a long fun day of beer and I hope we'll do it again for sure.  Craig is going to an even crazier tasting this coming weekend where he's going to get to try all the Splinter beers (gold, red, blue, and black) plus he's bringing a Black Tuesday.  Totally jealous but curious what he'll think of Splinter Blue considering how much I liked it.

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