Surly’s Darkness Weekend

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This weekend was a big weekend in Minnesota….I mean Wisconsin.  The good people at Surly Brewing held their 11th annual celebration of Darkness, their renowned BottleRussian Imperial Stout.   Because of the popularity of the event, they moved it from their brewery in Minneapolis to the Somerset Amphitheater in Somerset, Wisconsin.  Moving the celebration to a location more suitable for a festival like environment was probably a wise choice!   The different attendance packages Surly offered included on-site camping – love that option for an event like this!  Let everyone have a great time and minimize the potential for trouble.  They also provided shuttles from Minneapolis for those who couldn’t do the camping thing.  Nice move, Surly!

This year, Surly released for the first-time ever three bottles Darkness variants!  Aside from the OG Darkness, they released a Bourbon Barrel-aged Cherry Vanilla Darkness, a Rum barrel-aged Coconut Darkness and a Fernet Barrel-aged Darkness.   I’d love to try the Rum BA Coconut Darkness!  For those who are wondering (including me), according to Wikipedia, Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits.  Sounds interesting!!  I think I’d like to try that variant as well!

2018-09-29_15-14-32_068Aside from the Darkness release party, Surly arranged for a few of their closest friends to come to Wisconsin and pour some of their darkest creations.  Some participating breweries included Burial (North Carolina!), Trophy Brewing (North Carolina!), Toppling Goliath (Iowa), Half Acre (Chicago), Mikerphone (Chicago), Cigar City (Tampa) and Sixpoint (Brooklyn)……a nice touch and some fantastic pours, I’m sure!

If a Darkness release and a Stoutfest wasn’t enough, Surly outdid themselves with a tasty metal music lineup (Saturday headliner: Carcass), other extreme music (Friday headliner: Sick of It All), a community bottle share, and food trucks to keep everyone happy.

Also for those who love the Darkness label artwork (count me among that crowd), this year’s Darkness art was designed by St. Paul-based artist Michael Iver Jacobsen. Michael drew a minotaur brooding at the center of his labyrinth.

I had a chance to do an email interview with Jerrod Johnson, head brewer at Surly a 2018-09-02_15-17-12_580 (2018-09-03T18_13_27.546)few months ago.  He gave me a preview of Darkness Day (see the question about the variants) along with some insights into the how and why of Darkness:

  • What was the inspiration behind the creation of Darkness?

Jerrod:  The Surly Nation loves two things: Surly beer and truly dark metal music. Darkness is basically our loving tribute to them.

  • What do you feel is unique or separates Darkness from it’s RIS peers?

Jerrod: Darkness is a huge imperial stout that uses the highest quality ingredients. Unlike many imperial stouts, we add a massive amount of aromatic hops. This both balances the intense malty sweetness of the base beer and adds mysterious notes of forest and pine. The hops fade over time, so if you like it hoppy, drink it fresh

  • What do you feel barrel aging does to Darkness?

Jerrod: Barrel aging brings out more complex malty notes from the introduction of small amounts of oxygen in the barrel, creates vanilla and oak notes, and adds a perceived dryness that helps to balance the sweetness of the stout. The character of the original liquid, in this case rye whiskey, also carries over into the beer.

  • Have you considered any additional variants?  Other barrel types?

Jerrod: Yes, we’ve created several variants on a very limited scale, mostly as single firkins or infusion kegs. Vanilla Darkness aged on Red Oak, Cherry Darkness, and Fernet BA Darkness all turned out great. We have exclusively used rye whiskey barrels for our BA Darkness releases but are experimenting with other types of barrels.

Thanks to Tiffany Jackson from Surly for connecting me with Jerrod!  Tiffany is the PR and Communications Manager at Surly and she has been great to work with!

I appreciate the time, effort, and thought that Surly put into this year’s Darkness Weekend!  They really put their customers first in creating a top experience.  Count me amongst those who will put the 2019 Darkness Weekend on my calendar!!

There are many release events around the country that try and provide the best experience for their fans…funny how most of them are Stout related!!  That being said, I’m not sure if any of them outdo Surly’s Darkness Weekend!  Some may come close or equal it, but outdo?  I doubt it.

Let me know what your favorite release event is and why!

 

 

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Is there still a Stout Drought?

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In years past Stouts were considered cold weather beverages.  The summer months were reserved for the IPA crowd and the Stout lovers had to wait for the temperatures 2018-08-05_15-05-13_185to cool before the tasty dark elixir made a triumphant return to the shelves and taps. Thankfully for those who consider themselves Stout aficionados, the annual “Stout Drought” is being eliminated (or at least is shrinking) and we have the craft beer industry to thank!  As more local craft beer brewers enter the market, they are listening to their customers –  we want Stouts year round – and they are obliging!  All you have to do is look at social media…..there are weekly Stout releases and although we can’t be everywhere to take advantage of each release, just knowing they are out there tells me the Stout market is alive and well, even in the summer months!  So go ahead and drink that Stout on a hot summer day!

 

Heads Carolina, Tails California!

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I haven’t posted much lately so I’m going to combine a couple of ideas into one post!

April was North Carolina Beer month which celebrates the 200+ breweries from the mountains to the ocean. There were beerfests across the state, in Asheville, Charlotte, the Triad, and here in the Triangle, where Brewgaloo was held.  The Triangle Brewers Association also had  a weekend of fun and they recognized those local brewers in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.

I celebrated NC Beer month in a few ways:

  • I created “The Tollwhisperer” a wonderful cuvee blend of @Raleighbrewing BA The Toll 2018-04-21_15-03-31_608and The Toll conditioned with cacao nibs. It was a wonderful nectar that the good people at Raleigh Brewing should take note of and consider for a future release!  The barrel aging and the chocolate notes combined well and made for a tasty Stout that was a one of a kind treat!
  • Mrs. Stoutwhisperer and I took a trip to Asheboro to visit Four Saints Brewing Co. It’s a wonderful 2018-04-22_17-48-20_000 (2018-04-28T20_19_57.328)brewery/taproom in downtown Asheboro that had the feel of a local neighborhood gathering spot. Locals were welcomed by first name and visitors were welcomed as if they were a local.  The two people tending the bar were very helpful and accommodating. If  I were an Asheboro resident, I could see how Four Saints would be a regular stop!
  • I also enjoyed the following NC Stouts:
    • The cocoa and vanilla variant of Heavyweight Champ from Trophy Brewing
    • A 2016 vintage of
      Drunken Vigils from Southern Pines Brewing
    • A 2016 vintage of Foothills Brewing Sexual Chocolate

 

I extended NC Beer month 2018-05-06_14-25-47_121by a few days and enjoyed MDXXI, an Imperial Mexican Chocolate Stout from Twin Leaf Brewery

  • Mrs. Stoutwhisperer and I also took another road trip to Waxhaw (south of Charlotte) to visit The Dreamchasers Brewery to pick up a couple of bottles of Wail of the Baen
    Sidhe, a really tasty Bourbon Barrel aged Stout with vanilla beans and chocolate.The Taproom in downtown Waxhaw is a renovated firestation!  The day we visited, all of the garage doors were wide open and everyone was enjoying the nice breeze and low humidity….a real neat place for families and locals to 2018-05-13_14-48-30_805 (2018-05-20T18_44_01.000)meet and relax!

North Carolina Beer Month is really a great chance to focus on the amazing Stouts that North Carolina has to offer.  It truly is a statewide celebration of the craft beer industry!

Following NC Beer Month, I took a look at the last couple months of my sampling and realized I hadn’t had any Stouts west of the Mississippi!  I took care of that my having a California weekend!  Here were my selections:

-Traeblod, an excellent Maple and Coffee stout from Mikkeller San Diego. This was really a tasty one!2018-05-18_17-04-26_945

-Goshawk’s Grasp from Horus Aged Ales out of Oceanside, CA.  A thick, chewy Stout with 2018-05-19_15-20-35_149notes of Hazelnuts and Coffee. Loved the aroma and the taste!

-Darkstar November from Bottle Logic Brewing in Anaheim, CA.  Another incredible Stout from Bottle Logic – a bourbon 2018-05-20_15-37-56_115barrel imperial stout brewed with molasses and rye.  I really loved what the molasses added to this one – it really softened the bourbon notes and made it a smooth Stout!

I really enjoyed my California weekend….and I’m looking forward to traveling west again soon!  Hope you will come along for the ride!

What are you favorite North Carolina or California Stouts!  Let me know!

Funky Carolina? North Buddha?

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North Carolina has been the fortunate recipient recently of a number of breweries who have expanded their distribution footprint into the Southeast.  Cigar City and Firestone Walker have started sharing their lineup and the next one sharing their bottles, cans, and taps is none other than Funky Buddha Brewery from Oakland Park Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale.  In the Stout world I live in, Funky Buddha is known for their tasty Stouts and Porters:

…..and a few others that make a guest appearance from time to time!  They have a 2017-09-02_15-00-03_348great Barrel-Aging program and have a great knack for dialing in their adjuncts to perfection!  I’ve been fortunate enough to take most (but not all) of the above and I’ve been very impressed with the entire lineup!  I’ve had to trade for most of these and I’m thrilled to know that many of these will find their way to my local bottleshops and taprooms!  My guess is that FB will start with sending Maple Bacon Coffee Porter and Last 2017-12-09_15-10-02_608Snow up north to us (as well as some of their non-Stout/Porter lineup) and will expand to their Barrel Aged Stouts and Porters depending on sales and volume.

I just enjoyed the 2018 vintage of Maple Bacon 2018-03-17_15-21-45_473Coffee Porter and it truly is a memorable beer….the maple aroma lasts for a good while and it’s truly deserving of all of the accolades it has received over the years!  The Funky Buddha brew crew appears to have the recipe down just right!

I hope that Funky Buddha makes a splash in North Carolina and puts it’s best foot forward in their market introduction.  Tap Takeovers, tastings, and other special events will be critical in the fight for shelf space in what is a very competitive marketplace in North Carolina.  Local, 2017-03-25_15-16-14_075 (2017-07-09T19_02_26.169)regional, and national brewers are all vying for our wallets and cellar space and Funky Buddha certainly has the Stout/Porter lineup to grab a healthy share!

Here’s to a successful launch for Funky Buddha in North Carolina!  The Stoutwhisperer is looking forward to seeing MBCP and Last Snow on the shelves in North Carolina….but make sure and bring some Morning Wood and Last Buffalo as well!

What breweries are you hoping would expand into your market?  Let me know the brewery and where you are at and perhaps we can reach out and see what can be done!

Nothing but Infinite Wishes at Smog City!

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There are many positives associated with east coast living but one of the negatives is
not getting exposure to many of the west coast Stouts.   There are only a few Stouts that regularly make the cross-country distribution journey – Speedway Stout from Alesmith Brewing comes to mind – while many other Stouts make it past the 2018-02-24_15-47-54_788Mississippi River via UPS and FedEx via the lively trading community.  One brewery that I’ve kept my eye on has been Smog City Brewing out of Torrance, California (just outside of Los Angeles).  Through social media, I would see posts praising Infinite Wishes, their Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout and The Nothing, a Double Chocolate Imperial Stout.   After doing a bit of research on their website, I became a fan.  They started in 2011 by brewing using another brewery’s excess capacity.  Business took off and they opened a brewery/taproom in 2013 and haven’t looked back!  A couple other reasons that attracted me to Smog City – the owners are Jonathan and Laurie Porter (Porter, get it?) , they refer to their annual releases as “vintages” like I do, and they have a Barrel Whisperer on their staff!   Yes, on their website, Cesar Alfaro’s title is Barrel Whisperer!  Any brewery with a Barrel Whisperer on their staff is a fan of the Stoutwhisperer!

I reached out to Smog City via an Instagram Direct Message (DM) and who but Laurie Porter responded!  A few emails back and forth and before I knew it, a bottle each of Infinite Wishes and The Nothing made the cross-country trip from Torrance to Raleigh!  I usually plan my tasting and blogging schedule for the next month, but when I saw these bottles at my doorstep, I knew my schedule would change!

Infinite Wishes is an Imperial Stout aged for a year in bourbon barrels and it’s annual release has become a highly anticipated event for Smog City and Infinite Wishes fans!  2018-03-03_15-30-13_386For the 2018 vintage, Smog City bottled approximately 1900 bottles which is about 800 less than last years vintage.  What’s new this year is that they are releasing two variants, Cinnamon Vanilla Infinite Wishes and Hazelnut and Cocoa Nibs Infinite Wishes!  After tasting Infinite Wishes, I can only imagine how incredible these two variants taste!

My time with Infinite Wishes was too short…..it started as it poured beautifully into my Stoutwhisperer tulip glass.  The first aroma notes were intoxicating scents of bourbon, vanilla, and chocolate.  The taste was sublime….rather than overriding the stout, the bourbon notes complimented the stout.  That takes a keen sense of brewing skill and barrel whispering!  The swallow was smooth and clean, with no burn or heat that some BA Stouts can give.  I finished it too soon and I wanted more….a great recommendation in itself!  Just count me a member of the Infinite Wishes fan club!

2018-03-04_15-06-37_591 (2018-03-05T01_18_55.304) After my Infinite Wishes experience, I couldn’t wait to dive into The Nothing, Smog City’s Double Chocolate Imperial Stout.  I enjoy dark chocolate and the label descriptions and the reviews really intrigued me.   Upon opening The Nothing, the escaping aroma was one of dark chocolate cocoa – not the sweet sugary kind, but the wonderful scent of dark unsweetened cocoa.   Brewed with “darkly roasted chocolate malts” and 2 types of cacao nibs, The Nothing is the darkest, blackest Stout I’ve ever seen.  The pour of The Nothing is a sight to behold!  The taste closely followed the
2018-03-04_15-08-32_964aroma, as the chocolate flavors really come forward from both the cacao nibs and the malts.   The Nothing is really something!  The Imperial Stout base with the chocolate malts combined with the cacao nibs create a luscious, alluring, black as night elixir that the Smog City Brewmasters should be proud of.  As the phrase on the label states, “Don’t be afraid of the Dark!”

After tasting Infinite Wishes and The Nothing, I’m a Smog City fan!  Those living in the LA/Torrance area, you have a gem of a brewery in your backyard and you need to patronize this brewery and their taproom.  For people like me on the other side of the country, I’ll have to settle for the occasional #beermail from the west coast…..but I’m applying to be the Smog City brand ambassador for Stouts in North Carolina, so when Smog City begins to distribute to the east coast, I’ll be in a prime position for Infinite Wishes and The Nothing deliveries!  How about it, Smog City?

Have a great Stout week!

 

 

 

 

Love that Maple!

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I’m a big fan of maple syrup….the smell, the taste, the romanticism about tapping a tree and letting the sap drain into a bucket.  All in all, it’s quite a wonderful nectar of nature.
2018-01-15_14-50-46_783Not surprisingly, maple has become the adjunct du jour in the Stout world, and frankly, I’m thrilled.  The addition of maple syrup to an Imperial Stout adds taste, complexity,  a bit of sweetness and an amazing amount of aroma.  It is very complementary to the traditional flavors you find in a Stout – and even complements the other popular adjuncts out there today – vanilla, coffee, cocoa, cinnamon, and even peppers!

Probably the first real maple Stout was the first release of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (affectionately known as CBS).  CBS was first released in 2011 and 2017-12-24_16-59-46_523became a cult classic.  Founder’s released it again in 2014 in a very limited release,  but reintroduced it this past fall worldwide to incredible fanfare.  Another stout that pushed the maple envelope was Toppling Goliath’s Mornin’ Delight.  First introduced in 2013, MD was one of the Stouts that has made Decorah, Iowa (home of Toppling Goliath) a must visit destination for any Stout lover.  Others have quickly followed…can’t name them all, but maple has become a more frequent addition to the Stout world.

My first exposure to maple was with a brewery out of  St. Albans, Vermont named 2015-12-05_210031113_CE10D_iOS14th Star Brewing Co. with their Maple Breakfast Stout using Vermont Maple Syrup.  I was impressed with how the maple syrup added to the complexity of the Stout and was hooked.  Then I was able to pick up a Maple Bacon Coffee Porter from the good people at Funky Buddha in Florida and I was absolutely floored with 2017-03-03_17-10-22_536how much maple was packed into their bottles…not to mention the BA version of MBCP, Morning Wood!  Just wonderful! Add Michgan Maple Jesus from Evil Twin Brewing and I was on a maple mission!  Fast forward to Mikkeller Maple Vanilla Shake and the maple aroma and taste were simply amazing……next came Maple Bourbon Double Negative from Grimm Artisan 2017-10-14_15-40-06_312Ales, then the 2017 vintage of Founders CBS which added to the maple mystique,  and then getting a rare opportunity to enjoy a Mornin’ Delight from Toppling Goliath just took my maple journey to another level!2018-01-13_15-29-19_697 (2018-01-14T17_21_54.834)

What’s next?  My good trading friend from the UK, The Bristolian Stout, sent me an Omnipollo/Buxton collaboration, Original Maple Truffle Ice Cream Waffle Stout and I’m really looking forward to diving into that one!  I hear Parish Brewing has a great one called Maple Shade…hoping to find one in a trade!  And I would really like to taste a Fayston Maple Imperial Stout from Lawson’s Finest Liquids out of Warren, Vermont….and I hear that Jackie O’s has some very tasty maple Stouts!

What’s your favorite Maple Stout?  Let me know…..leave me a comment!  I want to find those incredible off the charts Maple Stouts that I should be tasting!

Visiting Richmond, VA

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2017-12-15_19-23-13_027Every once in a while, I get to leave the confines of my office and hit the road.  I had to head up to Richmond, VA last week for a couple of days of meetings.  Once I locked in my travel plans, I took a look at the numerous Richmond breweries and bottleshops.   Richmond is quite a hotbed of craft beer these days, so there were many more places than I could visit during the little free time I would have during my time there.  I mapped out the few on my must visit list that appeared to be on the way to north Richmond – Veil, Hardywood, and The Answer.    On top of that, fortune was smiling upon me – Veil was releasing a new batch of Oreo Hornswoggler Chocolate Milk Stout on the Tuesday I would be driving up there.  I was able to get a couple of cans of Peanut Butter Oreo Horns a few months ago and really enjoyed them.  So having a release of Oreo Horns while I’m there was great news.

The drive up was uneventful and I arrived in Richmond around 5:30pm.  Fighting rush hour traffic, I found Veil located on a side street just off the main drag in Richmond (Broad St.).  I also found a long, long line snaking outside of the building.  I expected a line, but this was a LINE.  I was in no mood to wait, so disappointingly I headed to my hotel to get a good night’s sleep to be ready for my meetings.

After a solid day of productive meetings, I checked Facebook and again luck was on my side – Oreo Horns were still available!  I had about 2 hours before dinner so I
headed to Veil.  This time the line was about 5 people long – my kind of line!  I was in 2017-12-16_16-29-31_238and out of Veil in 15 minutes with my Oreo Horns.  The only downside was that I didn’t get a special token to get a limited edition Hornswoggler glass! (Note to the good people at Veil – I still would like a glass…).  Since the visit was so efficient, I decided to head over to Hardywood, which is about a 10 minute drive from Veil.  As it was with Veil, Hardywood was busy, but I was able to walk right to the counter and get a bottle of Christmas Morning, a bottle of Rum Barrel Gingerbread Stout and a nice matching Hardwood GBS 2017-12-16_16-12-41_185glass.  I was hoping to find Kentucky Christmas Morning, but they sold out of bottles a day or two prior…..and although they had KCM on tap, I passed and headed back to meet my dinner commitments.

On my way back to dinner, I passed The Answer and a Total Wine….unfortunately, not enough time to stop at either.  Why Total Wine?  I like to visit Total Wines as they provide insight into the local craft beer market and what is available in the market they serve.

My last day in Richmond wrapped a bit earlier than expected, so as I was heading out, I took the opportunity to stop at that Total Wine.  I walked around a bit and while I didn’t buy anything, the most interesting takeaway 2017-12-14_15-59-05_984was the picture on the left.  There you see Bell’s Black Note Stout in quantity!  Here in Raleigh, Black Note was a hot commodity at release, usually with a 1 per person allocation.  Here in Richmond, it sits.

Heading back to Raleigh was another uneventful drive safely wrapping up a productive couple days of meetings and visits to a couple of local breweries.  Unfortunately, I didn’t visit The Answer; that will just have to wait until the next time I’m there.  I also want to visit the new Stone Brewing facility….and Lickinghole Creek (although that’s a bit of a drive from Richmond)….and a few others!

Are there any other breweries, bottleshops, or restaurants in Richmond that I should check out the next time I’m there?  Let me know…drop me a comment!

Until next time – have a Stoutstanding week!