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 🙂  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!

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