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!

2016 – a Stoutstanding year!

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The end of every calendar year brings a certain amount of rear view mirror reflection and windshield resolutions.  This year is no different.  I tend to look back, take stock of successes, failures, and learnings, and commit to improvement during the coming year.  As I look back at my stout life in 2016, this was the year where I started to walk the talk. This blog, my social media presence, trades, first release events – really just making an overall commitment to being the Stoutwhisperer!  It also enabled me to meet many great people who share the same passion for craftbeer and stouts that I have…..and it has allowed me to taste and review more than my fair share of amazing Stouts!

As I look back on the Stouts I’ve had the privilege to enjoy and taste in 2016, it’s fairly easy to separate those that have really made an impression on me……and those are the Stouts I’d like to recognize on this blogpost.  Before we go any further, I clearly realize that I’ve barely scratched the stout surface as there are so many I didn’t taste this year and there are some that are in my cellar that I haven’t opened…..and that’s a function of my tasting schedule!  I’ll get to them in due time – and the beauty of being the Stoutwhisperer is that aging Stouts isn’t a bad thing!   Now if I were the IPAwhisperer, I’d be in trouble!!

On to the awards:

Best Stout Pour:

Oskar Blues TENFIDY, Raleigh Brewing BA The Miller’s Toll, Southern Tier Choklat Oranj, Alesmith Speedway Stout, Westbrook Siberian Black Magic Panther and any Stout on Nitro!

I happen to like a bit of a foamy head on my Stouts, so when I pour my Stouts, I try and aim for around 1/2 to 3/4 inch of head on the pour.   I think that helps the various aromas contained in the Stout to be released and savored (see Best Aroma award above).  Some Stouts just pour better than others and when they pour well and create a nice foamy head, it’s a beautiful thing…and it photographs well!  This award recognizes those Stouts that had an especially nice pour and retained a nice foamy head.  I also included all Stouts on Nitro because I love watching all of the tiny nitrogen bubbles rise to the top!!

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Best Aroma:  

Prairie Paradise (draft),  Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly, Big Boss Brewing Root Beer Stout2016-12-31_20-25-32_000

After the Pour, the next thing I go for is the aroma.  What does it smell like?  What flavor notes can I pick up?  These three really stand out from all the others I’ve had this year.  Amazing Vanilla on the Paradise, Butterfinger (Peanut and Biscuit) on the Yellow Belly, and true Root Beer on the Root Beer Stout…I could have smelled these and been very happy!  Glad I was able to enjoy the liquid as well…and had a great ice cream float with the Big Boss Root Beer Stout!

Surprise Stouts:

Stillwater On Fleek, Birdsong Brewing MexiCali Stout, Twin Leaf Brewery MDXXI, Blue Mountain Dark Hollow, Alchemist Beelzebub, Lagunitas High West-ified Stout

Each of these were pleasant surprises in their own way…either through my not knowing the brewery, or having low expectations.  In each case, these Stouts made me seek out more and that’s a good thing.  Give them a try!

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Best Beercation location: Asheville, NC

Asheville is an wonderful place to visit, even without the incredible number of craft beer breweries!  Located in the mountains of western North Carolina, it’s a beautiful place to wander around and get lost in their various neighborhoods.  Add their vibrant craft beer scene and it becomes a must visit for any craft beer lover.  Read my blogpost from a couple of months ago that provides a nice overview of the long weekend my two sons and I had in Asheville – Oskar Blues, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Burial, Wicked Weed and many others too numerous to mention.  The food is amazing as well – make sure and stop by Vortex Doughnuts in the morning and Buxton Hall BBQ in the evening – they are both in the South Slope area of Asheville!

Most Stoutstanding Breweries:  

In my opinion, these two Breweries seemed to separate themselves from the pack for their creativity and innovation and should be recognized!

Prairie Artisan Ales

Prairie took their Bomb! and Noir lineups to another level in 2016….wonderful flavors and spices  – Vanilla, Coffee, Pirate, Prairie, and Christmas.  Add an innovative barrel aging program – Apple Brandy Barrel, Sherry Barrel, Oak Barrel, Bourbon Barrel, Rum Barrel….and the combination of flavors and barrels make for an impressive and highly in demand lineup!  Of special note was the one brewery only draft release that I was fortunate to get a 16oz. growler of – Cinnamon Pecan Bomb!  That was one of the highlights of the year for me….incredible flavor palate which I was very fortunate to taste!  Special thanks to Michael of Tulsa for the extra effort in getting and shipping that growler to me!!  Lastly, I hear that Paradise (Vanilla) is coming off the line soon and will be available in bottles!  Can’t wait for that one!

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Epic Brewing

Epic Brewing took their Big Bad Baptist program and created an entire family!  They started with Son of a Baptist by engaging local coffee roasters all across the country to create 12 separate versions of Son of a Baptist, a non barrel aged coffee Stout.  More recently, they aged their coffee beans in whiskey barrels and added it to BBB, creating Double Barrel Big Bad Baptist.  Next, they went south of the border and brewed Big Bad Baptista, a relative of BBB but using Mexican coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Finally, they just released Son of a Baptist in 12oz cans….again using different local coffee roasters to create regional variants of SoB!  The Epic team was indeed busy this year and their creativity and innovation has paid off!

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2016 Stout of this World All-Stout Team

As I look back at my various tastings over 2016, these are the ones that really made me take notice or made me want more.  They challenged all of my senses and expectations and happily and easily surpassed them…..

Prairie Artisan Ales Pirate Bomb!2016-03-18_210739939_544F9_iOS

2016-12-02_17-21-18_857Epic Brewing Big Bad Baptist

Epic Brewing Big Bad Baptista2016-12-03_15-39-47_927

2016-11-13_15-36-52_718Bell’s Brewery Black Note Stout

Prairie Artisan Ales Cinnamon Pecan Bomb!2016-10-07_17-04-46_338

2016-03-26_202511511_CBE20_iOSRaleigh Brewing Double BA The Miller’s Toll

Southern Pines Drunken Vigils2016-10-23_15-41-41_515

2016-07-16_192807305_60953_iOSGoose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout

Dark Horse Plead the 5th2016-01-09_205936305_E6A42_iOS

2016-11-20_15-06-32_390Westbrook Siberian Black Magic Panther

Prairie Artisan Ales Pirate Paradise2016-10-22_15-45-47_525

2016-11-12_15-44-03_506-2016-11-13t00_44_53-408Oskar Blues Java Barrel Aged TENFIDY

 

That puts a wrap on 2016!

Love to get your comments on any of these!  That’s the beauty of Stouts – everyone’s taste is different!  Help me select my Stout list for 2017 – share your favorite Stouts with us.  Looking to expand my horizons and need your input!

I’m looking forward to a Stoutstanding year and I’ll be sure to bring you along for the journey.   Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (both @Stoutwhisperer) and keep reading my blogposts!!

Happy New Year and with apologies to the Star Wars fans out there….

May the Stout be with you!

The Asheville Stoutcation!

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As I wrote about in an earlier post, the 2 sons of the Stoutwhisperer and I traveled to Asheville for a 21st birthday weekend beercation (albeit a year late!).  We even had the blessing of Mrs. Stoutwhisperer!   One son rode with me and the other met us in Asheville as he was coming from Greenville, SC.  We met at our hotel around 4pm on Friday and immediately called for Uber to take us to Oskar Blues.  We all agreed that we were going to 2016-11-04_20-24-11_000Uber all weekend; no reason to take any chances.  We took the 25 minute ride to Brevard, NC which is the east coast home of Oskar Blues Brewery.  It’s in an industrial area off the beaten path so I’m glad we were with someone who knew where it was!   We were very fortunate in our planning because it just happened to coincide with the release party for BA TENFIDY and Java BA TENFIDY!  When we got to OB, it was already buzzing and most everyone was walking around with a glass of TENFIDY, BA TENFIDY or Java BA 2016-11-04_17-25-02_553TENFIDY.  Those who didn’t have a glass were walking around carrying their take home cases of BA and Java BA.  Apparently  the no limits on take home quantities caused issues, although I really didn’t see anyone with more than 2, maybe 3 cases (36 cans).  I 2016-11-04_18-24-13_003bought 2 cases (3 sixers of Java BA and 1 sixer of BA).  We enjoyed the cool evening meeting new people, enjoying the TENFIDY and having dinner at the OB CHUBwagon.   I had a smoked pork sandwich with 2016-11-04_18-09-55_677barbecue sauce made with TENFIDY and a bread bowl of French Onion soup also made with TENFIDY!  It was a TENFIDY evening!

Once we decided to head back to the hotel, we found out that Uber will take us to Brevard, but there weren’t any local Uberer’s that would take us back to Asheville!   Apparently that’s a known fact that our Uber driver neglected to tell us.  We had to call a local Brevard taxi service who was more than willing to take us back to Asheville for over 4X the amount we paid to get to Brevard!  We didn’t have much of a choice so we took it and the cab driver stopped at an ATM along the way because it was cash only!  He was a real character….and I’ll bet he’s laughing all the way to the bank on people like us!    We made it back to the hotel safely and turned in for the evening knowing we had a full Saturday of fun ahead of us!

Saturday started early with an Uber ride to the South Slope district of Asheville, home to the Wicked Weed Funkatorium, Burial Beer, Green Man, Twin Leaf, and Buxton Hall BBQ and our first stop of the day, Vortex Doughnuts.  I read about Vortex as I was planning for 2016-11-05_08-49-55_314the trip and knew we had to pay a visit.  Homemade doughnuts with some creative flavors was right up our alley.  We each had a couple of doughnuts and a beverage…..very tasty and a great way to start a cool Saturday!

We had a few hours to kill before the breweries opened (11am), so we decided to walk to the River Arts district, home of some amazing artists, and a couple of breweries, Wedge and New Belgium.   The artist studios were just opening up and so we stepped in and started to look around.  We came upon one artist, Stephen Lange, who was more than happy to spend some time with us and talk about his craft.  I really thought that the time we spent with him was the surprise of the weekend!  He spoke to us about his technique, his business, and his client base.  It was really neat to hear the passion in his voice about his work.  Take a look at his website!

After the cultural portion of our weekend ended, we wandered over to New Belgium Brewery, 2016-11-05_10-50-02_912hung out by the river, and waited for them to open up.  Right at the stroke of 11, they swung their doors open and a group of about 20 of us walked in.  Each of us selected a flight of 4 tasters to sample the various New Belgium offerings.  New Belgium really doesn’t have a Stout program, so I wasn’t expecting anything to floor me.  I was wrong.  2016-11-05_11-15-16_078My 4 tasters were: Ben & Jerry Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale, 1554 Black Lager, Anne Francoise Spiced Dark Ale, and a Cherry Felix Sour.   The Ben & Jerry Ale really did smell like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough but didn’t really taste anything special, the 1554 and Anne-Francoise didn’t do much for me, and the Felix Sour…..well let’s just say that Sours are an acquired taste that I won’t be acquiring anytime soon!   Wow!  Just as others probably can’t handle Stouts, I’ll never be able to drink a Sour.  That’s the beauty of craft beer – a taste and style for everyone!    If anything, our time at New Belgium reinforced my love for Stouts!   The people at New Belgium couldn’t have been more nice and their tasting room and patio overlooking the river is a beautiful place to sit, drink, and talk.  The boys had their flights and they enjoyed sampling the different styles and tastes that New Belgium has to offer.  I plan on visiting New Belgium again, but more for the location and the people!

After New Belgium we headed back to the South Slope where we spent the rest of the day.  We went to Buxton Hall BBQ for lunch.  Buxton Hall has been recognized by Bon Appetit 2016-11-05_12-42-33_5572016-11-05_12-59-28_769magazine in their September 2016 issue as one of the top new restaurants of 2016 in the USA!  Since it is located right in the middle of the South Slope area that made our lunch decision an easy one!  All the tables were taken, so we took our seats at the bar and ordered up!  A couple of us ordered smoked pork and the birthday son ordered their other specialty, a fried chicken sandwich.  We all really enjoyed our meals and will certainly return again!  But a 1:30 brewery tour at Burial beckoned, so off we went to Burial Beer.

Burial was right around the corner from Buxton Hall and their patio was crowded with locals.  We entered the combined taproom/brewery and were pointed to a long table where the tour would start.  At 1:30, Tim our guide started the tour and it turned out 2016-11-05_14-42-47_019that we were the only ones there!  So we had a personal tour of Burial!  Now granted, it’s a rather small brewery, but Tim did a great job giving us the history of Burial, walking us around the facility, talking about the future plans of Burial, answering our many questions, and allowing us to sample the offerings that Burial had on tap that day!  We all really enjoyed the visit to Burial and we’ll definitely keep an eye out for their releases.  I was already a fan of Burial through their limited Skillet Donut Stout release but the boys are now fans as well!

After Burial, we walked around the area, stopping by Green Man and Hi-Wire.  Unfortunately, one place I wanted to go to, Twin Leaf, was closed for a private event.  So we continued across the street to Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium, their hallowed location 2016-11-05_15-10-02_848for their Barrel-Aging programs.  Not surprisingly, I stayed away from their Sours, but I grabbed a sample of their Dark Arts Espresso stout.   It was much, much sweeter than I expected!  Definitely a sipping desert drink!  I also bought a couple of bottles of Dark Arts to go.   The boys wanted  to visit the “original” Wicked Weed, so we walked the half 2016-11-05_15-30-42_894mile or so to the taproom.  It was really crowded but we were able to get through the line quickly.  I got a glass of Dark Ages and was able to wash away the last remnants of my earlier Sour and quench my stout thirst and we watched college football on the multiple screens.  After that, we Ubered back to our hotel to freshen up, drop off our purchases from the day, and then took the hotel shuttle to Sierra Nevada for the evening.

Sierra Nevada is the Taj Majal of breweries in the Asheville area.  It is a huge facility near the Asheville airport and similar to New Belgium, it is their east coast brewing location.   They have a full brewing facility, a large restaurant, a 2016-11-05_17-15-51_398separate taproom, a huge ‘backyard’ with a large firepit and chairs all around, a few large conference facilities…oh, and a very large gift shop.  In short, an entertainment complex for the craft beer aficionado!

I attempted to register online for a Sierra Nevada brewery tour a couple of weeks prior to our trip but they were sold out far in advance.  Word of advice, if you are planning a visit to SN and want to tour their facility, check their online scheduler first.

Once we entered, we walked around in amazement.  The 2016-11-05_19-13-23_424copper tanks, the fire pit, everything just overwhelmed us in comparison to what we saw earlier in the day in the South Slope.  There was a Master Brewer’s conference being held there, so it was perhaps more crowded than normal.  I enjoyed (perhaps too much) a 2016-11-05_17-31-13_305-2016-11-06t23_46_59-236couple of glasses of Sierra Nevada’s signature Stout, Narwhal, and then we grabbed a great dinner there.  We then spent some time around the fire pit watching the flames flicker in the dark, and then we called the shuttle to return us to our 2016-11-05_19-40-57_110hotel.  A full day of the Asheville craft beer scene in our heads and a satisfying combination of great beer and great food in our bellies!

The next morning was an early wake up call as an English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Tottenham was on.  For the uninformed, Arsenal and Tottenham are fierce London rivals as their stadiums are very close to each other.  No matter their records, it’s always a contentious soccer match.  We were hoping to watch it at a local establishment or hook up with the local Arsenal fan club (the Asheville Gooners), but we weren’t able to find anywhere that would open for a 7am kickoff.  So we grabbed breakfast at the hotel and watched the game in our room.

Once the game finished, we checked out and headed back to Raleigh and Greenville to enjoy our Sunday afternoon and get ready for the week ahead.  Many thanks to our Uber drivers, the Clarion Inn-Asheville Airport, and our many acquaintances and new friends at the breweries and eateries we visited.  I know we had a great time in Asheville and are planning a return visit sooner than later.  If anyone is interested in learning more about our visit or would like some additional recommendations….or if you have any recommendations about our next visit,  drop me a comment and I’ll be sure to reach out to you.

Until next time……

Planning a Stoutcation to Asheville, NC!

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My youngest son turned 21 last year and he wanted to go to Asheville for a birthday present with his older brother and me.  Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t align and it never happened.  Well, he recently celebrated his 22nd birthday and we have been able to find time on our calendars during the weekend of November 4-6 to celebrate his birthday, where we will 2016-03-20_193601943_CB164_iOShead to Asheville and enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of the Asheville brewery scene.

Our tentative schedule will take us to Oskar Blues in Brevard, Sierra Nevada in Mills River, and Burial, Twin Leaf, Wicked Weed, and Hi-Wire in the Asheville South Slope district.  I hope to show the boys that craft beer is more about quality than quantity and to teach them that the breweries put their heart and soul into brewing a beverage that is to be savored and enjoyed rather than chugged.  I am especially excited to visit Oskar Blues,
where we will be attending their BA Ten Fidy release party!  I will certainly be picking up some stovepipe cans to bring back home!!2016-09-11_193500051_76a0c_ios

It will be a fun weekend.  I enjoy the company of my two boys and getting together for a weekend in Asheville should be a good time.  Asheville is a laid back place and it’s a great place to people watch.  I hope to park the car and Uber to all of our locations so we won’t need to worry about driving.  I’d rather spend some money to get us around the area than a lot of money dealing with a court case!

I hope to speak to as many of the brewmasters as I can about their Stout offerings and will share their thoughts in a future blog.  I’m looking forward to the weekend and I’d like any and all recommendations or insights you would be willing to share about Asheville and their craft beer community.  What did you do in Asheville that we should do?