Fremont Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star: Spice Wars

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In a galaxy far, far away lies a 15 year old oak bourbon barrel.  At war, rebel spices from different backgrounds – some sweet, some unique – wreak havoc on an evil galactic oatmeal stout.  The fight for turf within the large wooden cask occurred for several months, until the human forces at Fremont Brewing decided to end it.  Racking the beer into glass bombers and sealing it with wax, the war has now reached my home front.  Who will emerge victorious: the Jedi forces of vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg or the Stromtrooping trio of allspice, ginger, and clove?   Time to run them numbers…

Appearance:  Darth Vader black with a Chubaka colored head that didn’t stick around too long.  Pours as one would hope an oatmeal stout would – rich, bold, and beautiful.

IMG_3989Smell:  Brown sugar, vanilla, molasses, bourbon, oak, clove, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne.  This brew smells spicy like the firey pit of hell, but I got some spices on the nose that had nothing to do with this beer.  I’m interested to see if I pick up anything unique on the flavor as well.

Taste:  Oh man.  Fremont just freaking nails every damn beer.  This is no exception.  I was worried that the charred molasses smell would overpower this beer like it does with many other BA stouts, but it’s not nearly as potent in the taste.  The flavors in here deep, perplexing, and rich.  The cinnamon and vanilla were most prevalent on flavor alone as they complement the caramel richness and oaky character of the barrel.  The malts are not as pronounced due to the adjuncts, but they are deep and roasty.  I don’t get as much spicy heat on the flavor as I did on the smell, but I’m assuming that it’s the ginger on the back end that soothes the throat as I swallow.  To be frank, I don’t eat much food seasoned with nutmeg or allspice, so I cannot say much about them, however I do get some bitter and herbal notes mid palate.

IMG_3997For being a barrel aged oatmeal stout, the beer has a lightness about it.  It’s very easy to drink and the flavors in here strike a curiosity that kept me diving back in – I found the first pour to vanish quickly.  That said, the body of this beer is velvety and silky as one would expect to find in an oatmeal stout and matches the style well.  The ABV of 11% is hidden beneath a flavor profile that truly unique in a craft beer market where brewers are constantly trying to one up their peers.  And really, that’s why I have such a crush on Fremont.  They put together some head scratching combinations sometimes, but as the late Steve Jobs would say, it just works.  They deliver uniqueness, yet award winning beer that is purposeful, discerning, and most importantly, good.

Overall:  This brew gets an A+ from me.  This beer could have gone awry in so many facets, but the six spices, malts, and barrel character meld so perfectly together – a melting pot of peace, love, and harmony.  Not only did Fremont really push the boundaries here, but they were successful.  I know this breaks the theme, but it’s a beer that will make you live long and prosper.

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Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel

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For some, to find the word “weasel” in the title of one of Mikkeller’s flagship brews may be off putting.  But without the help of a small, Southeast Asian rodent this beer would not be possible.  Mikkeller whips up an oatmeal stout infused with coffee stout with this brew, however not just any coffee will meet their needs.  That’s were the little guy known as the civet comes into play.  This animal goes around eating coffee beans scattered around the trees but they cannot fully digest the beans, so when they pass it their system adds a unique flavor.  Farmers prize their scat for this, collect it, and wash and roast the beans afterwards.  Praise the guy who every had the courage to do that.  With that in mind, let’s see how this little dude affect Brunch Weasel.  Time for them numbers…

IMG_1705Appearance:  Jet black with a dark tan head that left no lacing on my glass.  The head stuck around for a little while, which was surprising given the ABV but eventually fell into the abyss.  Although there was no lacing appearant, there was a good deal of sediment that clung to the sides as I drank, but more on that later.

Smell:  Roasted grains, molasses, dark chocolate, some cardboard, a little booze, and a substantial amount of coffee.  I could smell it as soon as I pryed the cap off of this bad boy.

Taste:  That is some really good stuff right there.  Roasted grains lead the charge in this brew giving off hellacious flavor.  From those grains, I get flavors like charred veggies, brownie corners, and dark, bitter chocolate.  Then the coffee drops and just takes over the brew.  I like my dark roasts, but holy hell, is that an intense coffee flavor.  Imagine the boldest FrenchIMG_5326.JPG roast you have ever had and multiply it by 10… that’s the type of coffee flavor we’re talking about in Brunch Weasel.  It’s certainly enough to wake you up in the morning, but it’s not an afterthought at all.  The rich coffee flavors play perfectly with the assertiveness from the grain and balance it out a bit as well.  I am curious as to what the IBUs in this beer are as I am getting a distinct bitter charge, however it’s not a hoppy bitterness, but one you would find out of an espresso that is dry and lingering.  Towards the finish, things start to round out as I get a vanilla bean or vanilla extract flavor accompanied by a pinch of sweetness, which may be attributed to the ABV in this beer.

At 10.9%, the alcohol in here holds its own to the rich and robust flavors, but the shocking thing is that it cannot be detected at all in the taste.  No burn, no obscene nail polish taste.  The mouthfeel on Brunch Weasel was also superb for an imperial oatmeal coffee stout – silky and full bodied as it should have beIMG_1700en.  This beer has such depth of flavor and is quite punchy given the ABV, you might expect it to be tough to drink, but that is far from the case.  The 11.2 ounces in this beer went down nicely and if it was packaged as a bomber, I could have finished it in once sitting with ease.

Overall:  This brew was phenomenal.  The depth of flavor in here was incredible and the whole experience from start to finish was great.  The only knock on this beer was the amount of sediment in it… so much so that it clung to the sides of the teku.  I poured this beer aggressively to get as much head as I could, but towards the end of the bottle I saw chunks fall in.  My advise is to pour gingerly with your eye on the liquid coming out so you can leave the solids out.  Because of that I’ll give this brew an A, otherwise, we’re looking at a flawless beer.  And it’s all possible because of the civet.

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Hoppin’ Frog Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S.

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I bet you the Geico gecko is probably the first one out of the office on a Friday, and therefore, the first one on a bar stool for the company happy hour.  He just seems like a party animal reptile to me.  The artwork on this label reminds me of an artist’s rendition of how that gecko unwinds while at the bar.  Carefree and letting everybody know he’s having a good time.  There’s only one issue with my thought process here: the label sports a frog.  A Hoppin’ Frog to be exact and he’s not in the insurance business, but in the libation business.  This brewery from Ohio brings us a barrel aged oatmeal Russian imperial stout.  That’s a bit of a mouthful, so to shorten things up, we’ll just call this Russian (stereotypically I might add) B.O.R.I.S.  Is this brew the perfect for a Siberian hibernation or is it still living in the Soviet Union?  Time to run them numbers…

IMG_1335Appearance:  Pitch black like an oatmeal stout should be.  A very tiny dark tan head appeared for about 10 seconds, then vanished into the abyss.  Beer pours awesome, but left no lacing as I drank.

Smell:  Rich bourbon notes, dark chocolate ganache, vanilla, oak, and toasted grain.  This is insane – the beer really reminds me of a magnificently rich and dense dark chocolate cake you’d find for dessert at an expensive restaurant.  It’s so inviting, like finding a wood stove in the tundra.

Taste:  Absolutely fantastic.  The most noticeable element is the viscoscity of this brew.  The body is so lush and velvety that it makes me think B.O.R.I.S. traveled down China’s silk road before it found it’s final resting place in my fridge.  I bet Hoppin’ Frog used copious amounts of oats in here.

It may seem insulting to say that the first thing I noticed from a bourbon barrel aged Russian imperial was the mouthfeel, since there are so many other wonderful things going on inside the glass.  The flavor here is on point – the assertiveness of the bourbon is readily apparent in every sip, adding a warming booziness from your mouth to your stomach.  However, its pink elephant presence does nIMG_1338ot stomp out the flavors from the grains.  I get toasted oat, toasted coconut, roasted malt, chocolate, the slightest bit of coffee, and some vanilla from the beer.  In other bourbon aged stouts, this does not tend to be the case as often is the case, the bourbon is the only star within the brew, however everything melds together here flawlessly.  The oak and richness from the grains adds a little bit of bitterness at the finish, but it’s more on the lines of a dark chocolate bitterness and not something you’d find in an IPA (even though there are 60 IBUs in this brew).

The ABV on B.O.R.I.S. comes in at 9.4%, which is strong, but relatively tame considering the style of this beer.  As mentioned earlier, the mouthfeel is perfect and the carbonation brilliantly complements the silky body of this beer.  It’s on the undercarbed side, but that’s what I want in my stout.

Overall:  This is something that the gecko would surely poor in his pint.  It is nicely balanced and easy drinking earning this Hoppin’ Frog an A.  I’d take this over Bourbon County any day.  Grab a bottle – it drinks best on the coldest day of the year.

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Ninkasi Brewing Oatis Oatmeal Stout

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Online shopping.  Yes.

Why anyone would get out of bed, take a shower, and want to interact with society nowadays?  We do that enough Monday through Friday… the last thing I want on my Saturday morning is to be cut off by some jerk on my way to get some good beer, when only to arrive at the store, I realized I’ve forgotten my wallet.  I mean… hypothetically speaking.  Not like that ever happened.  Thank god for the miracle of e-retail.  Using the interweb, I got a new set of brews that have arrived at my doorstep and this review is from another beer out west.  Ninkasi Oatis – from the tree loving state of Oregon.  I figured oatmeal stouts are a pretty hard thing to mess up.  I’ve never really had one that disappointed.  Surly this would make me proud… let’s run those numbers.

IMG_4691Appearance:  Black, can’t see though it, espresso foam.  Pours like a stout (shocking right?) however, the 7.2% ABV makes that head go away awfully quick.  One thing that stood out to me with this beer was that after I pried the cap, there was what looked to be like rust spots underneath it.  I talked myself out of that rationalizing that it had to be parts of the malt?  But aren’t stouts filtered?  Whatever… I had a tetanus shot when I was little.  Those last forever right?

Smell:  Malt, alcohol, toffy, chocolate, and some whipped cream.  Definitely has a character to it with that creamy smell.

IMG_4700Taste:  This will be a short one.  Light in body for a stout… already a bit disappointed by that.  The taste up front has more bitter notes than expecting.  In the middle, you get the malt/chocolate/espresso flavor, but then it takes a turn.  It finishes with a burnt cigar taste that lingers for a bit.  The hops in the brew then take you past the finish line.  Strange beer, and not the unique, intriguing strange.  It’s more of a, “What were they going for with this?” strange.  It’s too bitter to be an enjoyable stout and too burnt to be a black IPA.  The flavors in here don’t mix well and for that its grade suffers.

Overall, I’d give this beer a C.  There are far better stouts out there worthy of your time than this beer, and seeing that it’s from the west coast, residents on the Atlantic side are much better off reaching for the ubiquitous Samuel Smith (and will save a Lincoln by doing so).  I understand Ninkasi is trying to balance the flavors out with this brew, but when I read, “Oatmeal Stout,” the only bitterness I want comes from the roasted grain.  If it was labeled a Black IPA, I would be psychologically prepared for the hops, but it doesn’t make sense in a stout.  If you are a hop head but like to drink with the seasons, then try this out, if not, spend your money on something else.  The most enjoyable part of this review was trying out the new extension tube for my camera and monitoring my body for muscle spasms for the next week (actually, that’s not enjoyable at all…)  Two weeks later, no tetanus!  Good job Ninkasi…

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Ipswich Oatmeal Stout

No need for mom’s handwritten notes in your lunch box to warm your stomach anymore, all you need is a bottle of Ipswich.  Drinking this beer is like drinking a campfire: warm, roasty, smokey, inviting, and friendly.  If you drink with the seasons, then this is perfect for the colder weather, and of course, you retain that New England pride (especially in the fall) as this brew comes from the Commonwealth.

I always wanted to try this brew, I love the artwork and I love a hearty stout with complexity and boldness.  This beer delivers.  It pours an oil black with a rich butterscotch head giving off an incredible aroma.  I got a lot of bold notes from this beer: roasted grain, dark chocolate, and an oaty-nutty characteristic as well.  The taste was suburb – the grain and barley dominate this beer, but you do get the taste of the roasted oats as the beer finishes.  Although it may look a little filling and intimidating, it was incredibly inviting.  The richness of the beer kept coaxing me back sip after sip, and before I knew it, it was gone.  Highly, highly drinkable and if you show up with a sixer of this at the tailgate, you will wow everybody.  Perfect beer to go along with a hearty chili, however I recommend keeping this out of the stew (it’s just too damn good).  Bottom line, this brew gets a rare A+ for its characteristics, richness, and unbelievable taste.  Pick it up!