My Brush with the Dark Arts

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The signs were there….last November, I went to Asheville with my two sons for a weekend Stoutcation. ¬†We made the rounds to many of the local breweries and had a fantastic time. ¬†Check out my blogpost for a review of that weekend. ¬†In fact, I’m hopeful that¬†Stoutcation II can happen later this year! ¬†One of the 2016-11-05_15-10-02_848breweries we visited was Wicked Weed. ¬†Actually we visited both WW locations – fortunately, they are within walking distance of each other ūüôā ¬†I enjoyed a snifter¬†of Dark Age and also ordered a small taster of Espresso Dark Arts that they had on tap (at left). ¬†The sample of Dark Arts was really super sweet and frankly, so cloyingly sweet, I couldn’t taste anything beyond the sweetness. ¬†I think my tastebuds went into diabetic shock! ¬†Since I knew Dark Arts was a such a¬†sought after Stout with great reviews, I just chalked up my initial experience to a weekend of tasting¬†different beers.¬†¬† I bought a bottle of Dark Arts (and the proper glassware) to bring back home to give it a fair shot. ¬†Dark Arts is a strong 15% ABV Rum barrel aged Stout fermented¬†with Brettanomyces. ¬†It’s bottled in a 500ml bottle and has a beautiful golden wax dip to show off¬†it’s rarity. ¬†I wanted to give¬†it a few months to age a bit and then I would be¬†able to sit back and enjoy this highly acclaimed Stout.

Well, this past weekend was that¬†time. ¬†April has been¬†designated as North Carolina Beer Month and as such, I decided¬†to celebrate the local Stouts of North Carolina during the month. ¬†Saturday was Dark Arts day, so I followed my process of taking my Stout out of the Stout fridge about an hour before tasting to allow it to warm a bit. ¬†I 2017-04-22_15-57-11_867cut back the wax, cracked it open, poured it in the Dark Arts snifter, and took a taste…..and the super sweet taste that I endured in Asheville came back to visit. ¬†I couldn’t blame¬†this overly sweet taste on anything, as it was my first Stout of the day. ¬†I just wasn’t enjoying it.

I tried to analyze it and figure out why I wasn’t enjoying Dark Arts. ¬†I’ve never really had a Stout that I just couldn’t drink. ¬†I’ve had thin Stouts, over carbonated Stouts, and Stouts that just don’t live up to their billing – but they’ve always been drinkable. ¬†I’ve had infected beers that were drain pours – but there was a reason for the drain pour. ¬†In this case, there wasn’t anything wrong with Dark Arts – it’s just not my glass of Stout!

In my research on Dark Arts, I’ve read that this is a wonderful dessert Stout that is meant to be sipped – and that makes perfect sense. ¬†Dark Arts is¬†like a port wine, a cognac or a small (4-6 oz.) glass of bourbon meant to be sipped and savored after a wonderful meal. ¬†Perhaps that’s where I went astray. ¬†My normal Stout tasting occurs in the mid-afternoon, prior to a meal. ¬†Opening Dark Arts at that point was probably a tactical error on my part.

That being said, enjoying Dark Arts in small quantities might just be the way to go. ¬†But how to keep it fresh over a weekend? ¬†Open bottles of Stout when stoppered or recapped just don’t taste the same the next day. ¬†Lost carbonation, oxidation, whatever it is, it just doesn’t taste the same. ¬†Based on that, my modus operandi is to consume the entire Stout over the course of a couple hours. ¬†That was my mindset with Dark Arts. ¬†When I had those first few sips, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to finish a 500ml bottle in a couple of hours…..and I’ve always said that if I didn’t like a Stout, I wouldn’t force it down.

I finally came to grips with the notion that I’m not going to like every Stout that I taste. ¬†There will be some that I love, some that are OK, some that I’m glad I tried, and some that I won’t like…..and that’s OK, even if others find the same Stout irresistible. ¬† Granted, there have been only a couple of Stouts over the past couple of years that just don’t agree with my palate, but this really is the first where I feel like I’m swimming upstream and my dislike is at odds with the majority.

Now that I’ve been able to think it through and write about it, I’m much more at peace with my tastebuds. ¬†Some may not like the vanilla, coconut, coffee, and pepper variants that I tend to gravitate to and that’s just fine. ¬† I also really appreciate a straight down the middle Imperial Stout. ¬†In fact, a good, solid Imperial Stout is sometimes more difficult to brew as there are no other flavors to hide any imperfections. ¬†But everyone has different like and dislikes. ¬†To each is own. ¬† At last count, there are 204 breweries in NC and thousands more across the country. ¬†There are different styles of beer, different variants, different types of barrel aging, and even different types of glassware to have your favorite beverage served in. ¬†We’re all different with differing tastes….and that’s what makes this journey so unpredictable and enjoyable!

Lastly, to the good people at Wicked Weed: ¬†I appreciate your entire Stout program and I especially enjoy Dark Age – but Dark Arts just isn’t for me. ¬†I’m looking forward to my next visit to Asheville and won’t hesitate to stop by for a Stout!

Have you ever had a Stout (or a beer) that just didn’t agree with your palate? ¬†Leave a comment and share your story!

North Carolina Beer (Stout) Month!

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This past¬†Friday, April 7, was National Beer Day….as if one needs a “Day” to enjoy a Stout! ¬† Not quite sure how this happened, but while Beer gets only a day, the entire month of April has been proclaimed North Carolina Beer Month! It’s a local celebration of all of the wonderful breweries and their liquid creations that are scattered across the state from the coast to the mountains.

This special month gives me the opportunity to focus my weekend tastings on North Carolina Stouts and as I’ve curated my lineup for the month, I’ve come to the realization that there are some really good Stouts brewed here in North Carolina! ¬†Follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@stoutwhisperer for both) on my Stout tour across North Carolina! ¬†It promises to be a mix of old friends and new acquaintances! ¬†I’ll provide a more in depth write up on my journey of North Carolina Stouts soon!

Is size important?

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The Stout world seems to be confused about size. ¬†If you go to your favorite bottleshop or taproom, you’ll see Stouts in 12oz cans, 16oz cans, 19oz cans (BA TENFIDY), 11.2 oz bottles, ¬†12 oz bottles, 16oz bottles, 500ml bottles, 22oz bombers and 750ml bottles, and in rare cases, 1 liter bottles (yes, Rogue I’m talking about Rolling Thunder). ¬† Consistent we’re not.

2017-03-25_13-45-37_490Why is size important? ¬†Well,¬†in the Stout world it’s important because the other critical¬†variable is %ABV or how potent the beverage is in terms of alcohol content. ¬†While there is a trend toward “session” Stouts, the average Stout weighs in somewhere between 9 and 15% ABV. ¬†Now I know there are others on the lower and higher sides, but most are in that ABV window. ¬†A 22oz
12% bomber is not only filling, the normal person feels pretty loose after consuming an entire bottle. ¬† Some might say that a 22oz bomber is the right size for sharing , but in many situations, sharing isn’t part of the equation. ¬†Putting a bottle stopper on and saving it like a wine isn’t really an option, so drinking the entire bottle becomes the task for the day. ¬†I really like¬†the strategy that Founder’s Brewing is taking this year with their 2017 release of KBS. ¬†They are releasing KBS in both 750ml (25.4oz) bottles and 4 packs of 12 oz bottles! ¬†That certainly gives us Stout lovers the option on how we want to enjoy our KBS!

The most recent release I’m not sure I understand (other than it being a novelty) is Rogue’s 2016 release of Rolling Thunder Imperial Stout. ¬†As you can see below, it was 2017-03-25_13-48-34_891released in a 1 Liter (33.8 oz) bottle which can be restoppered. ¬†I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never thought beers really stay the same after they are stoppered. ¬†You lose carbonation and once you open it, oxidization starts. ¬†That’s why I’m not a fan of 32 or 64oz growlers.

Why all of the different sizes and shapes?  There are a few reasons.  One is cost.
Depending on the amount of Stout, some brewers choose a larger capacity bottle which means less bottles.  That leads me to the next reason Рmarketing.  Scarce supply can create a higher demand for the beer and a heightened interest in the brewery.   For me, an example of this is the offerings from Ram Brewing just outside of Chicago (Schaumburg to be exact).  To be frank, I never heard of Ram until I read about them on various online boards and just how great their Stouts are.  When Ram announced their releases online, lines formed and the trading started.   The 2017 version of Chaos is in great demand on the trading boards.  Small breweries can make great beer and create quite a buzz through low volumes and high demand!

The other part of marketing is brewery only releases versus distribution. ¬†Brewery only releases accomplishes a couple of things: it takes care of your primary customers (those local to the brewery) and allows the brewer to control the distribution. ¬†Brewery only releases is a topic better left for another blog post…so stay tuned!

Another decision is can vs. bottle….there is a clear trend toward canning Stouts and there is an economic as well as quality aspect to this. ¬†Cans allow no light in (obviously) and therefore the beer has a longer shelf life. ¬†Glass allows light in and exposure to light 2017-03-25_13-47-05_782over time breaks down the beer. ¬†That’s why one of the rules of successfully aging Stouts is to keep them in a dark area.

Back to the size of the Stout….I’d like to see some consistency in approach. ¬†If a Stout is 12% or higher ABV, I’d like to have an option for a 12oz. bottle. ¬†I really have to commend Founder’s – I’m not sure of the economics, but as a Stout consumer, I really like having the option and in my world, I would opt for the 4 pack of 12oz. bottles. ¬†That gives me 4 opportunities to enjoy the Stout, whereas if I bought the similar quantity in 750ml bottles, I would only have 2 chances. ¬†I also believe taste sensitivity begins to diminish after 16oz or so (no science behind this, just personal observation) and when quality is more important than quantity, I’d rather have my full complement of taste buds and be left with wanting more!

Marketing, economics, quantity, distribution, even tradition Рall these determine the size, shape, and type of vessel for our wonderful Stouts!  What do you think about the various bottle/can sizes for Stouts?  Do you have a preference?  Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Cheers!

#ProperGlassware

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When I started down this Stout road, my preferred glass of choice was a frosted pint 2016-12-29_17-45-02_824glass. ¬†I liked my beer cold because that’s what I always was told and frankly, that always how it was served. ¬†The colder the better and having a frosted glass was even better.

Fast forward to the present and I know so much more….and so does everyone else. ¬†Stouts should be savored and sipped at around 50-55 degrees F. ¬†– unless the brewer specifically calls out something different (one example are Nitro Stouts, which are recommended to be served cold (40 degrees)). ¬†Unfortunately, most bars and restaurants serve their beer cold no matter the style, so many Stout lovers order two beers at a time, warming the first one up by cupping their hands around the glass and allowing the second to warm naturally. ¬†Colder temps hide some of the wonderful flavors that Stouts can have and having the different flavors emerge as the Stout warms is a wonderful thing to experience. ¬†One of the areas that is getting more 2016-07-04_194004482_00E49_iOSattention is the actual type of glassware to aid in bringing out the aroma and flavors of a given style of beer. ¬†Rogue and Left Hand Brewing actually collaborated with Spiegelau to develop a Stout glass which enables the optimal release of flavors, the ability to warm the Stout through human hand warmth and thin glass walls, and a wide opening for the aromas to escape.

Another trend is for breweries to release branded glassware to enhance their marketing reach as well as to match the glass style to optimize the taste experience. ¬†Many brewers sell Tulip glasses or Teku glasses for Stouts. ¬†Many also are selling limited edition glassware for special Stout releases…..and many are buying them! ¬†There are trading forums on Facebook, Reddit, Beer Advocate, and elsewhere dedicated to trading and selling glassware!! ¬†As you can tell from some of my Instagram or Twitter posts (@stoutwhisperer for both), I’m a novice Stout glassware guy. ¬†I’ve bought some, I’ve traded for some, I’ve been given some. ¬†Some limited, some widely available. ¬†Below are some examples of my glassware along with their partner beverage! ¬†My rule, as silly as it may be, is that only the named Stout can be poured into a branded glass – that is, only Founder’s KBS can go into a KBS glass, Goose Island Bourbon County can only go into a Bourbon County glass, etc.

I’ve even become the proud owner of2017-03-11_16-17-26_481 a pair of Stoutwhisperer Stout glasses thanks to Mrs. Stoutwhisperer. ¬†They have become my go to Stout glasses and you’ll see them in many of my Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest pictures. ¬†Many other posters like to show off their glassware as well – you can usually tell when they use #properglassware as a tag.

Collecting Stout glassware is a fun and relatively inexpensive partner hobby to collecting, tasting, reviewing, and writing about Stouts!

Now that you have some nice Stout glasses, you need to make sure you care for them and keep them clean. ¬†They are usually very fragile, as their walls are intentionally thin so your hands can warm the liquid which as noted above, brings the flavors and aromas out and greatly enhances the taste of your Stout! ¬†I highly recommend hand washing and air drying them. ¬†It’s also important to insure they are clean, otherwise you’ll see the dreaded air bubbles sticking to the side of the glass – see¬†the examples below. ¬†Bubbles stick to the side of the glass when there are small particles on the glass….which means it’s a dirty glass! ¬†There is nothing worse than posting a picture online and have a poster point out your dirty glass! ¬†I speak from experience….

To insure a clean glass, I get some hot water, add a drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid in the glass, and use a bottle/glass washer to clean the glass an hour or so before using it. ¬†That’s also when I usually take my Stout of choice out of the cooler or fridge so it can start to warm up. ¬† ¬†If you are out and about, good bars and restaurants usually have a water spray near the taps so they can give their glasses a quick upside down spray to insure a nice clean and cool glass and to insure the best tasting experience for their beers.

To sum up – keep your glass clean, your Stouts at 50-55 (unless specifically called out by the brewer), use a Stout appropriate glass, and you’ll give yourself the best chance to have a great¬†tasting experience and have a much better journey down Stout Street!

Until next time – Cheers!

 

 

Stout down!

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I’d like to provide an update to my FedEx damaged shipment. ¬†You may recall in my last post that I sent a 6 shipper to California and when my experienced and trusted trading partner sent the full 6 shipper back, it made it all the way from California to North Carolina when it was identified as “damaged in shipment” and wound up going all the way back to California as directed by the shipper’s instructions. ¬†Now the shipper 2017-03-03_07-10-38_408intervened and attempted to have the shipment be redirected to me (the last 200 miles) but unfortunately, FedEx decided to ship it all the way back cross-country back to California. ¬†Well, the damaged shipment made it safely back to Cali, and what my shipper and trusted trading partner received was quite interesting. ¬†It appears that 4 of the 6 bottles were safe; one bottle was 2017-03-03_07-10-26_600completely missing and the last bottle was totally¬†shattered in the shipper. ¬†Based on the pictures my trading partner sent me, I can only speculate on what happened….either the package was dropped from a high altitude or someone was thirsty, opened the package, took a bottle and proceeded to damage the box so it would be declared “damaged in shipment”. ¬†I 2017-03-03_07-10-53_850just can’t think of any other options that make any sense! ¬†My trading partner is repacking the 4 shaken survivors, adding a couple other bottles and is sending a box back east again!

The FedEx representative that he spoke to recommended that Express is the way to go and that Ground shipping has had issues…….and it’s only a few dollars more for a seemingly safer trip! ¬†Sounds like a good move and important advice for all if you choose to ship via FedEx.

I’ve seen debated on forums the value of shipping FedEx versus UPS versus USPS…..everyone has their opinions and horror stories about each. ¬†None are perfect and none are bad – there is a risk every time you drop off a package and place it in the hands of others! ¬†Just pack the passengers as best you can and hope that they survive the trip to their final destination. ¬†Some tips:

  1. Try to make it as “non-beer” as possible – mask the liquid noise with tic tags, dried pasta, or some other noisy, non breakable item.
  2. Use bubble wrap, bubble wrap and when you think you are done, more bubble wrap.
  3. Invest in packing tape and tape every seam of the box.
  4. Pack the contents in a garbage bag so if there is leakage, it is contained in the bag and hopefully will still make it to it’s final destination.
  5. Add as much filler as possible so when it’s shaken, nothing moves…nothing.
  6. Find a trusted local shipping partner – I’ve built a relationship with a ¬†local UPS Store and because of that, most of my shipping is with UPS.

There is always a risk of having problems….but it’s worth the risk when you receive “beer mail” and it’s a Stout or other beer that you’ve been wanting for some time!¬†Hopefully the third trip cross-country for my Stouts will be smooth and uneventful and I can report to you soon that they made it safely!

Any interesting shipping stories you would like to share?  Any additional shipping tips for pass along?  Feel free to leave a comment!

Stout and about…..

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A few random observations:

-I’m in the middle of my first beer trading “damaged shipment”. ¬†I sent a full 6 shipper from North Carolina to California, had it refilled and it was sent back to NC by one of my good trading partners. ¬†It made it all the way cross country back to western North Carolina and then I saw the dreaded “Damaged in Shipment – returning to Shipper” note on my FedEx app. ¬†I called FedEx to see if they can redirect it back to me – after all, it made it 90% of the way – just deliver it to me and I’ll determine what was damaged. ¬†Unfortunately, the shipper instructions called for a return if damaged, so FedEx couldn’t reroute it without a request from the shipper (my trading partner). ¬†I reached out to my trading partner and he immediately called FedEx. ¬†He requested that the delivery be completed to me…and that’s where we’re at. ¬†The FedEx rep he spoke to didn’t seem real confident that it will be redirected to me, so it may very well wind up back in California for my trading partner to take stock of what happened. ¬† Tough to determine what happened, especially since we were using a good styrofoam 6-shipper. ¬† Putting it all in perspective, this is my first damaged shipment among many trades and also….it’s only beer. ¬†Even though I would love to be sipping on some Nibs and Beans Speedway Stout right now, no one got hurt and I’ll survive! ¬†We’ll see where this goes….anyone have any good “damaged in shipment” stories to share? ¬†For all I know, we had a thirsty FedEx person who perhaps heard some sloshing and decided to check it out! ¬† I’ll let you know what happens in a future blogpost!

-My wonderful bride, Mrs. Stoutwhisperer, made me a stout glass with my logo. ¬†It looked really great but when I poured a Stout in it, the logo disappeared! ¬†I don’t know 2017-02-26_15-44-56_759the technical details of glass making but apparently the etching wasn’t deep enough. ¬†Not to be deterred, she went to her Etsy network and found someone who made two Stoutwhisperer glasses for me! ¬†I was thrilled to get these logo glasses and you can expect to see them in my photos going forward next to any brewery glassware I’ve procured. ¬†The logo looks great with a nice dark Stout as a background! ¬†Hope you think so as well!

-I just returned from a business trip to the land of Mickey Mouse – Orlando, Florida. ¬†After the important work was finished, I tried to find some time to check out the craft beer scene in Orlando. ¬†Unfortunately, that turned into “whatever you can do in a two 2017-02-20_19-31-28_597hour window on your way to the airport heading home”. ¬†I used the intelligence I gathered from my friends at Beer Advocate and headed to Knightly Liquors on Orange Blossom Boulevard. ¬†Yes, it’s in a sketchy area, but they have a great assortment of Stouts! ¬†After talking with them, I found out about their “behind the counter” selection and I was able to bring home a couple of bottles of Funky Buddha’s Maple Bacon Coffee Porter! ¬†I’m really excited about cracking open a bottle next weekend and seeing if MBCP lives up to the hype! ¬†I also picked up a couple of Stouts from Canada I’ve heard about but haven’t had the chance to taste – Aphrodite and Peche Mortel from Brasserie Dieu du 2017-02-24_19-25-56_000Ciel in Quebec. ¬†Knightly has a great beer selection….I highly recommend you check them out if you are in Orlando….they are in the SeaWorld area. ¬†Friendly knowledgeable people and great selection…what else can you ask for?

-We’re wrapping up the Stout Month of February….so that means my world will slow down for just a bit. ¬†The only real Stout event coming up is the annual KBS release! ¬†Founder’s is having all of their release events around Grand Rapids and Michigan during the month of March – and everyone else will be able to taste the elixir that is KBS in April. ¬†I’m especially looking forward to the 2017 release as that will complete my 5 year KBS vertical..starting with 2013..14..15..16..and now 17! ¬†I’m looking forward to doing some tastings across the years! ¬† That also means my Stout Cellar is at it’s maximum capacity. ¬†That means it’s time to take inventory and open the cellar for some trading! ¬†I’m more about trying new Stouts and trying to trade for Whales! ¬†There are so many brewers creating amazing Stouts that it’s difficult to keep up…but the quest continues!

If you are reading this and think I need to know about a specific Stout, please let me know!  If you are local to a brewery and a Stout that deserves more love, have them send me a bottle or two so I can taste it and review it!  I love to sample new Stouts!

That’s it for now….thanks for checking me out! ¬† See you next time!

Hope you have a Stoutstanding week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stout Beer….and Ice Cream?

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When I wrote the Brews to Beans article for BrewStuds, I was particularly intrigued with the local collaboration between Braxton Brewing of Covington, Kentucky and Graeter’s Ice Cream of Cincinnati, Ohio. ¬†Braxton and Graeter’s worked together and recently 2017-02-12_18-27-28_942released Braxton’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout. ¬†I reached out to Jonathan Gandolf, chief of marketing for Braxton Brewing, and he gave me the scoop (pun intended) on the collaboration. ¬†Both Braxton’s and Graeter’s are family owned companies and while they knew of each other and admired their work from afar, the thought to connect was never raised….until a mutual connection brought them together. ¬† ¬†From there, the concept was born. ¬†According to Gandolf, ¬†“The test batching process took place over approximately 6 months and we had three different test batches. We sat down with the Graeter’s¬†family on every batch until we knew what we wanted. It’s been a blast to work with them and we hope it’s the beginning of even more collaboration.”

From the Braxton website:

The one-of-a-kind Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout is a creatively crafted beverage inspired by one of Graeter’s oldest traditional flavors. Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip is an ice cream featuring black raspberries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley and gourmet bittersweet chocolate chips. With Graeter’s exclusive black raspberry puree, Braxton Brewing Co. crafted this one-of-a-kind milk stout, a dark brew with notes of roasted barley and a creamy texture.

I can tell you that from my own taste tests, the Graeter’s Ice Cream is simply amazing. ¬†At our local ice cream shoppe in Raleigh, I tend to order a Vanilla “concrete” with Raspberry and Chocolate Chips mixed in, so I had a feeling that I would enjoy the Graeter’s….and I was right! ¬† Then tasting the Braxton Stout, I detected some sweetness from Graeter’s raspberry puree and some chocolate flavor notes to complement the sweetness. ¬†I can understand why Graeter’s and Braxton Brewing are excited about the final product!

Beer and ice cream collaborations are not yet mainstream, but are becoming more common. ¬†Ben and Jerry’s partnered with New Belgium on a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale….which smelled exactly like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough! ¬†The taste even had a bit of a sweet, chocolate flavor to it. ¬†I don’t know how well it sold or whether the Ben & Jerry/New Belgium partnership will continue, but I’ll bet they were pleased with the outcome.

Another twist on a Stout/Ice Cream collaboration was conceived by Big Boss Brewing of Raleigh, NC.  They brewed a Root Beer Stout that, I kid you not, smelled just like the 2016-03-27_230507625_0B4D6_iOSA&W Root Beer that I used to love and enjoy as a kid.  Low ABV and a bit sweeter than your average stout, Big Boss promoted it locally by partnering with a local ice cream vendor and sold Root Beer Stout floats at their taproom!  I made a Root Beer Stout float on my own and it was really good!

Back to Braxton….they produced a video to tell the story about the collaboration. ¬†Take a couple of minutes to watch it….but come on back!

While I’m not sure if the Stout/Ice Cream partnership is a fad, a trend, or has the staying power that a Stout/Coffee partnership has had (Bean to Brew anyone?), but I do think it’s a neat way to showcase different flavors, to partner with local companies and frankly, to try new things, push the envelope and be innovative. ¬†From my perspective, ¬†those are all good things and I hope it’s here to stay….