Doctor Duvel

I'm like a sommelier, but for beer.

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Location: Upstate New York, United States

Favorite Beers: Orval, Samuel Smith, Duvel, Hennepin, Oude Gueze, Chimay, Dogfish Head, Anchor Steam, and anything made by Trappist monks.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Imperial Stout Tasting

Thought I'd report, after the fact, that I held a fantastic imperial stout tasting with Buck and Sharon the other day. We analyzed the following stouts:

My Old British Beers 1856 Imperial Double Brown Stout:

We started with this one and it basically won. The nose is all raisins, prunes, and apple sauce. The palate is huge, enveloping, and deeply bourbony with a compelling but subtle astringency holding together a great array of flavors. The finish is all bourbon. I don't how to explain how convincing this beer is. Despite the logistical difficulties, I expect I'll brew a batch at least every other year. It is a huge, expensive, pain in the ass. But I'm NOT complaining...

Weyerbacher Old Heathen:

We decided this is a faux imperial. The nose is quite lovely, with brighter fruit but a little overlap with the above--also some smokiness. I detected a slight off aroma vaguely reminiscent of chicken boullion. The real problem is the extremely slender palate that fades into an acidic, watery finish. Tasting it right after the 1856 didn't help it any, but we worked in a beer of Randy's and mixed things up to give it a chance. It's just not at all rich enough. We tasted an old stout of Randy's just for the perspective created by his liberal use of roast barley; unfortunately the beer was just over the hill and didn't represent his stouts properly. Oh well.

Great Divide Yeti:

I had high hopes for this beer but they were quickly dashed. The nose is noticeably more alcoholic than 1856, despite its lower alcohol... Still a good, deep nose, with some milky richness. The palate is the problem. It's velvet for a moment and then becomes unspeakably harsh. The harsh, minerally bitterness gets sharper and sharper into the finish and then lingers way too long. Sharon cleverly connected the particular type of bitterness to bitter greens, like old, old arugula that you shouldn't eat. We poured out the last third of the bottle. Could bad treatment during shipping in any way explain this beer??

Smuttynose Imperial Stout:

This beer has one of the four or five most outstanding dry-hop aromas that I've ever smelled. It takes your breath away. There's just one problem: The hops totally obliterate the imperial stout character. It tasted pretty good, with a soft palate that provided welcome relief from the Yeti, but we felt the overwhelming hop presence really hurt the beer. Ease off on the dry hops Dave! Where's the roastiness?? It was still a beautiful beer in its own way though. Reminds me that I really have to do a Black IPA. I've been planning to for ages and calling it "India Ink" in the back of my head.

We then side-by-sided North Coast's Old Rasputin and my Raskolnikov--which was based on a fairly well-established clone recipe for the Old Rasputin. I do hope that the Raskolnikov mellows into something great later this winter, but at around 6 months old it's still somewhat harsh. It's not bad, but it's a long way off from the voluptuous Rasputin. The problem is a kind of harshness, particularly in the nose. Buck regarded this aroma as almost skunky--I call it vegetal. Whatever it is, that sharpness detracts from the otherwise nice malt character in the nose. It also has a slightly rough bitterness to the otherwise yummy palate. With that lesson in mind, I totally re-wrote the recipe and brewed another imperial the next day that I think will soften much more quickly. I worked in Munich and more crystal malts, deleting the black patent, going for softer hops than the Columbus I used in Raskolnikov, and omitting the Mt. Hood dry hop that I think might be helping to create the aromatic distractions.

And thus was born Sub-Committee Imperial Stout. We'll see how it turns out.


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