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!

Brewpublik

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Brewpublik is a new business venture that has entered the Raleigh market within the past few months.  They cut their teeth in Charlotte, then have expanded into Raleigh.  Brewpublik provides a customized craft beer delivery service based on a taste profile you 2016-04-26_230339982_6E14C_iOScreate on their website.  Based on your profile, they then select craft beers that match your profile and deliver it to your doorstep every month!  I was intrigued by the concept so I reached out to them and after understanding their business model, I decided to sign up.  As you might expect, my taste profile is “all Stouts all the time” and the more we talked, I decided to sign up for their concierge plan.  It’s their most personalized plan (with the highest monthly cost) but it seemed like the way to go for me.  The beauty is that it is a month to month subscription, so I can freeze my account during the summer when Stouts are in hibernation.  You can even specify when (day and time) to have your Brewpublik crate delivered!   On the day of my delivery, they texted me with a link that tracked my delivery all the way to my house!  I met my delivery person as they were driving up the street, he dropped off my crate, I signed off on the delivery, and away he went to his next delivery!
Another feature of the Brewpublik service is that you have the ability to preview your crate so you can swap out any bottles you may not like before you get your delivery.   The BrewPublik team were very easy to deal with and very responsive to my many questions upfront. The Stouts I received in my concierge delivery were:

-1 bottle of Founders KBS2016-04-23_224300576_11E31_iOS

-1 bottle of Prairie Artisan Ales Pirate BOMB!

-2 bottles of Wicked Weed Dark Age

-2 bottles of Mikkeller Black Hole

-2 bottles of Anderson Valley Huge Arker

I was certainly pleased with my selection!  Imagine having KBS and Pirate BOMB! delivered to you!  Now mind you, I did purchase their premium monthly service (but did get a generous new customer discount).  I suspect that not all Stout deliveries will have KBS or Pirate BOMB!, but if that is any indication of future deliveries, I’ll be a happy Stoutwhisperer!

Brewpublik is starting to expand beyond Charlotte and Raleigh into San Francisco and Charleston, SC.  I am hopeful that the more they expand, the greater and varied their Stout selection will be!  It would be great to be able to get some of those west coast Stouts to taste and review!

If first impressions are any indication, I think Brewpublik might have something here. They have bent over backwards to insure I was happy with my delivery and I’m looking forward to what they have in store (or in stock) for the future!  If you are interested as well, visit their website and make sure you tell them the Stoutwhisperer sent you!

NC Beer Month and the KBS Quest

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April has been selected as North Carolina Beer Month and all of the local bottleshops and breweries have special events to highlight local North Carolina beers.  My contribution to NC Beer Month for this week is tasting and reviewing Wicked Weed’s Dark Age and tasting Trophy Brewing’s El Hombre.  Additionally, I was on the prowl for KBS and I’ll share with you the results of my hunt.

This past Friday, I went to Trophy Brewing with Mrs. Stoutwhisperer and my son to give their highly regarded pizza a try.  I also wanted to taste their El Hombre, an Horchata Stout that came highly recommended.  Unfortunately for us,  Trophy has a great following and they were packed at 6pm.  We were really hungry so we weren’t going to wait, but before we left, I wanted to sample El Hombre.  My son (21 year old) and I each got a chalice of this Horchata Stout, but surprisingly (to me at least), it was served as cold as all of their other beers and I really didn’t get a taste of how good El Hombre could be.  I’m not sure why Trophy (or any other brewery for that matter) wouldn’t serve their beers at the best temperature for the style of beer.  Breweries should educate their clientele on how best to serve and drink their various offerings.  A cold stout hides the flavors that the brewmaster works so hard to develop.  I plan on revisiting Trophy soon to try their pizza and will order another El Hombre but will let it warm a bit so I can actually taste the flavors of the Stout that the brewmasters intended!

As I noted in my last post, this past week the elusive KBS from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Michigan made its annual migration into North Carolina.  It surfaced briefly on tap at Bull McCabe’s in Durham on April 1, but the rare 4 pack didn’t make an appearance until a few days later.   All of the traditional hunting grounds (i.e. bottleshops) had different ways to handle the demand. Some created priority lists for their best clients, some used social media to trumpet the arrival, and others are taking the lottery route.  Most were rationing one or two bottles of KBS per person to get it in the hands of more Stout lovers. Rare were those sellers who allowed the 4 pack to be sold!   I was really looking for a 4 pack, as I wanted to add to my KBS vertical, have one now, and put a couple in the beer cellar for special occasions down the road.

Fortunately, the good people at House of Hops (Twitter: @houseofhops1) in Raleigh came to the rescue and are worthy of the Stoutwhisperer’s praise!   They were taking names for their KBS list and my persistence wore them down. I really like the vibe at House of Hops and gallery_14_20141021_1683440087enjoy talking to the folks there.   They are very friendly and helpful. When I picked up my KBS, I had a chance to chat with Gabriela and Jesse about KBS and Stouts in general. Jesse and I first ran into each other sampling the Root Beer Stout at the Big Boss Brewing event a few weeks back, so I know he’s got good taste!  I was thrilled to walk out with a 4 pack and thought my quest was complete.  I highly recommend visiting House of Hops if you are ever in Raleigh….tell them the Stoutwhisperer sent you!

Fast forward to the next morning……there is a Whole Foods near me that has an excellent beer selection. Jason runs their beer shop and he traditionally sends out a Twitter message when new beers come into the store and from there, its first come, first serve. That’s how I was able to get my 2015 KBS last year, but I didn’t want to bank on my luck two years in a row.  Fortunately, the tweet came out early and I was able to scramble over and bag another 4 pack!   Jason a good old school guy and he doesn’t believe in rationing bottles so I was one of the lucky few.

While I was basking in my KBS success, I took a ride over to Taylor’s Wine Shop  at lunchtime.  Taylor’s is located inside a BP Gas Station and is known to have a pretty darn good craft beer selection.   Niki (aka “the Beer Lady”), was kind enough to talk to me and I happened to ask her about her KBS allotment.  Much to my surprise, she was expecting it to come in the next day and was just going to start her list!  She was rationing 2 bottles per person, but I was at the top of the list……and sure enough, I got a text message from Niki the next day that KBS was in and I could pick up my 2 bottles!

I also had the chance to get 2 more bottles from my local Total Wine (thanks Chase!!) but decided that 10 was enough.   Another bottleshop in the area is having a lottery this week for their KBS allocation, but I’ll pass on that as well.   The Stout Karma train doesn’t have many seats and I want to be sure I’m on it (I missed out on Mexican Cake last year)!   Through a little planning and a LOT of luck my KBS hunting season is complete and I bagged the limit.   This should last me through the Stout Drought…..now on to the reviews!

Wicked Weed Brewing – Dark Age

March 9, 2016 – Wicked Weed is an Asheville brewing institution known primarily for their Sours, but every once in a while they go the Stout route. Dark Age is a Bourbon barrel aged imperial stout that is being bottled for the first time. While I must admit I was underwhelmed by their Milk and Cookies Stout and haven’t yet had El Paradiso, I’ve heard good things about Dark Age.   This 12%ABV 12.7oz bottle was released a couple of weeks ago to much fanfare (at least in the Carolinas) and seemed to saturate the Triangle market, as 2016-04-09_214558669_83B9C_iOSeveryone seemed to get a large delivery of this release. Since April is North Carolina Beer month, I decided to do my part and give Dark Age a try…..

This Stout pours a nice black waterfall with a decent tan foamy head. It has a straight on bourbon aroma – not trying to hide anything, that’s for sure!   The first sip is smooth and while there is bourbon throughout the taste, it’s not overwhelming. The mouthfeel is thin to medium and the aftertaste is smooth as well.   A decent down the middle bourbon barrel imperial stout!  This strikes me as an excellent introduction to the world of BBA Stouts……no variants, smooth taste from the sip to the swallow, with a consistent hint of bourbon. Not the best I’ve had, but also far, far from the worst. I’m going to age another bottle of Dark Age for a while to see if the flavor profile changes at all.   All in all, a decent BBA Stout from our friends at Wicked Weed!

Stout of this World rating: 4.0 bombers

Founders Brewing – Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) 2016 vintage

March 10, 2016 – Since my recent KBS trials and tribulations have been documented in recent posts, I felt a need to see if the destination was worth the journey, so I took some time to open a fresh bottle of the 2016 vintage of KBS. I’ve read many of the reviews from others and while many were very complimentary, there were those who felt it needed a bit more aging.   Jason at Whole Foods felt that Founders was one of the few breweries who actually ages their beer to be at its peak aging when sold – rather than rely on the customer to age it a bit more. So going into the review, I wasn’t sure what side of the barrel I would fall on.

I wore my KBS t-shirt to commemorate the event and poured it into the 2016 KBS glass – 2016-04-10_200330304_D09B4_iOSbig kudos to Founders Brewing for the 17oz. size!! This is a perfect size as it allows me to give a good pour and get some foamy head without worrying about spillage!   KBS isn’t the most heady beer, but I was able to get a decent head from the pour! The aroma was an alluring combination of bourbon, chocolate, and a hint of coffee. Would the taste match the aroma?   The first sip answered the question….unequivocally yes!

The smoothness of the 2016 vintage is unsurpassed. Notes of coffee and chocolate infused with a smooth layer of bourbon creates a taste that leaves one wanting another.   The mouthfeel is nice as it coats the tongue and there is absolutely no bite in the aftertaste. As I write this, I realized that I didn’t get this level of complexity when I had it on tap at Bull McCabe’s for the release party……it was quite good there but in a more controlled environment (my house) it’s at another level.   I’ll note once again, that the temperature of the Stout is so critical to the emergence of the flavors.   I had refrigerated my bottle of KBS but took it out a full hour before I opened it to gradually warm to 50 degrees or so. Drinking KBS (or most Stouts) cold will rob you out of enjoying the full range of scents and flavors……so do yourself a favor and give it time to rest and warm….even 30 minutes will work.

I think Jason is right….this doesn’t need any aging. This is an amazing Stout right now. Find it and drink it!

Stout of this World rating: 4.5 bombers