Seth Levy

Seth Levy

Taking a darker turn with Belgian stouts

We've spent the last few weeks sampling Belgian Abbey Ales, a family of beers traditionally brewed by Trappist monasteries. We've sipped single, dubbel, tripel and quadrupel. Yum! Now our exploration of Belgian styles is taking a darker turn: to stout! The stout most of us are familiar with is an Irish dry stout — like Guinness. Belgian stouts couldn't be more different! They typically have almost double the alcohol content (7-8% rather than 3-4%), smaller quantities of hops, and sweeter, fruitier aromas from the unique strains of yeast and higher fermentation temperatures. Without further adieu, let's explore the darker side of Belgium!

 

Allagash Black
Format Sampled: 12 oz. capped bottle
ABV: 7.5%
Availability: Purchased at 7-11

Tasting Notes: Pours a deep maroon, with a thin, light-brown head. Aroma has banana, clove, cocoa and coffee. The initial flavor prickles with bitter coffee grounds, cocoa nibs and forceful carbonation. There's some softness also — a rounded, gentle sweetness tempers the initial bitter flavor. It's a mellow, honeyed warmth, with a sliver of milk chocolate. The aftertaste is tremendous — more layered and complex than the initial flavor. The bitter cocoa blends with the spicy character of the yeast to produce a combination that's both bitter and sweet, drying and quenching. The body is moderate. It's a bit thick for casual consumption, but I imagine it would compliment a burger well.

 

MIKKELLER Black Hole
Format Sampled: 13.7 oz. capped bottle
ABV: 12.1%
Availability: Purchased at RSVP

Tasting Notes: Pours a deep, brownish black, with a thin brown head. Aroma has maraschino cherry, brandy, chocolate liqueur, and nose-clearing alcohol. The initial flavor is like the event horizon of a black hole spreading across my palate, drawing me deeper. Tasting consultant Chelsea says, “Black Hole? Jesus. More like black out and bury me in a hole.” There's a bracing espresso bitterness, refined and slightly sweet, like the crema on top of a ristretto shot of lightly roasted coffee. Soaring notes of fruit esters, plum brandy, kirsch, and pear float above the notes of cocoa and chocolate. The aftertaste has refined liquor, gourmet chocolate, and single-origin coffee. This is a treat to enjoy in moderation during the contemplation of particle physics.

 

De La Senne Stouterik
Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped bottle

ABV: 4.5%

Availability: Purchased at RSVP

Tasting Notes: Pours a jet black with a gargantuan puff of tan head. Aroma is fresh, with a piquant lactic acidity. Initial flavor is delectably dry, shot through with notes of bitter cocoa powder, and a faintly sweet undertone of prune. It's as if someone added a dusting of fine cocoa to a dry Irish stout. It's rich without sweetness, complex without confusion, and sweet without stickiness. The Stouterik stands in contrast to the much heavier stouts I sampled earlier.

 

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Quadrupel it!

This season, we're sipping beers of Belgian origin. We've slurped singels, drunk dubbels, and tanked tripels. We're moving on to the logical conclusion of this advancing series, loyal reader: drinking 200 proof grain alcohol from an enormous bucket! I jest. We'll actually be trying the strongest of the so-called “Abbey Ales.” These beers are known as a quadrupels, or quads, if you're a serious beer geek that would rather use your oxygen for alcohol metabolism, rather than pesky additional syllables. Typically exceeding 10% alcohol by volume, quads feature spicy, fruity flavors, and dense concentrated bodies. These beers pair well with strong, funky cheese, preserved meat, and long, philosophical conversations. Cheers!

 

La Trappe Quadrupel Trappist Ale
Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped bottle

Availability: Provided by Artisanal Imports, Inc.

ABV: 10%

Tasting Notes: Pours a sparkling copper with a dense layer of off-white head. Aroma is strong, with pear, prune and toffee. The initial flavor is dense, concentrated and fruity. It's the distilled flavor of candied apples, plums and cherries, plus a handful of fruitcakes. The sweetness is so profound that it nearly burns, and it's offset by a pleasantly tart acidity. There's a creamy aspect, like a cream sherry. As the solution warms, my palate has the spins, and the fruit flavor evolves to include quince paste and licorice, plus the fruity flavor of the alcohol itself. The aftertaste is sweet and lingering, emphasizing apple, berries and pear.

 

St. Bernardus Abt 12
Format Sampled: 750 ml corked bottle

Availability: Purchased at Rosemont Market and Bakery

ABV: 10%

Tasting Notes: Pours a glowing garnet with a rich, light brown head. Aroma is rich, multi-layered with fresh cider, cold-brew coffee and spices. The initial flavor is similarly rich and complex. There's a rich, mulled opening — reminiscent of spiced cider, made darker with a hint of cold coffee. The richness shifts, and there's dark fruit — spiced plum, dried apples and clove and a bit of aged port. The aftertaste is spicy and rotund, with big, glowing hints of fruit flitting in and out, and whiffs of clove, coriander and cinnamon adding complexity. This is a supremely well-balanced quad — both opulent and subtle, carefully planned and wonderfully liberating.

 

Triporteur Full Moon 12

Format Sampled: 11.2 oz capped bottle

Availability: Purchased at 7-11

ABV: 10.2%

Tasting Notes: Pours a bright amber, with a thin layer of off-white head. Aroma is bright with candy apples, candy syrup and spices. Initial flavor is dense and syrupy. Apple butter, dark corn syrup, brown sugar and a sharp snap of pure rock candy issue a challenge to my tongue: “How many kinds of sweetness can you endure?” Under all the sugar, there's plenty of plush fruit — sugared plums, peaches, dried cherry and quince form a compact base. There's a bite amid the fruit, a hot, alcoholic jab that hits me in the gut, reminding me of the strength.

 

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Belgian Tripels: Part Deux

This Spring, we're tasting styles of beers from Belgium. Last week, we sipped some tripels straight from Belgium. The dry, refreshing character of these beers, the ambitious alcohol content (often 9% or more), and the surprisingly light body all conspire to make tripel a tremendous style for cold, wet weather. To really enjoy a tripel, you need to embrace one of the more fussy aspects of Belgian beer: specific glassware. Many Belgian brewers recommend a specific glass for their particular beers — but if you're like me, the idea of maintaining a library of specific glasses isn't sustainable. If you don't have a Belgian chalice-style glass, a white-wine glass is a solid second best. The narrow neck serves to concentrate the delicate aromas of the triple and provides enough room for the flavorful head to accumulate.

 

Tripel Karmeliet

Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped bottle

ABV: 8.4%

Availability: Provided by Artisanal Imports, Inc
Tasting Notes: Pours a pale straw, with a huge puff of white head. Aroma is fresh and sour, lemony, with notes of fresh pepper. Initial flavor is smooth, almost creamy on the tongue, with lemon meringue, and a rich, dairy-like sweetness. The sweet character fades, and I'm left with a peppery astringency, and dry, spicy cloves. The aftertaste builds in complexity, mixing spice, lemon, and sweet cream. I wouldn't hesitate to pair this with lemon cookies, sherbet, or any other sweet lemony dessert.

 

St. Feuillien Triple

Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped bottle

ABV: 8.5%

Availability: Provided by Artisanal Imports, Inc
Tasting Notes: Pours a cloudy yellow with a huge white head. Aroma has clove, tangerine, banana and clover honey. The initial flavor is bright, with a gentle prickle of lemony acidity. Immediately after the bright lemon flavor, things get malty. There's a lightly toasted biscuit flavor, slightly dry, musty and wonderfully complex. The wheat is augmented with subtle spice — coriander, clove, and nutmeg. The spice is gentle, but it builds a welcome pause into what is otherwise a surprisingly dry and quenching beer. The body is so light and dry, the flavor so interesting, the alcohol so insidious — it's a sneaky one!

 

La Trappe Tripel

Format Sampled: 750 ml capped bottle

ABV: 8.0%

Availability: Provided by Artisanal Imports, Inc
Tasting Notes: Pours a pale gold with a dense white head. The aroma is vibrant with green apple, yellow raisin, golden tobacco and dried clove. The initial flavor is surprisingly tart, with notes of green apple, fresh cider, and bitter hops. After the slightly tart opening, there's a sweet, creamy flavor, approaching fresh whipped cream. The creamy sweetness is so brief that I can describe the La Trappe as dry overall. The finish carries notes of sour apple, pungent clove and flashes of burnt sugar. The body is light and fluid and supremely drinkable.

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Don't be intimidated by these Belgian Tripels

This spring, we're sipping Belgian styles of beer. We've started with traditional Trappist Ales (singels, dubbels) and now we're on to tripels. Last week's tripel tasting got me thinking. “Seth,” I thought (I often address myself in this manner), “these tripels are heavy duty beers! They are 9 percent alcohol. But, oddly they are light, dry and super drinkable. What gives?” Upon further reflection, I realized that many wines (like Vinho Verde, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer) with a reputation for being light and refreshing actually have more alcohol, heavier body and more sweetness than this supposedly “heavy duty” beer. The lesson? Don't be intimidated by the high ABV, arcane symbols and tiny bottles – tripel is a surprisingly approachable, refreshing style!

 

Westmalle Trappist Ale Tripel
ABV: 9.5%
Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped Bottle

Availability: Purchased at the Bier Cellar

Tasting Notes: Pours the palest gold, with a huge pouf of white head. Aroma has golden raisin and the faintly skunky smell of noble hops. The initial flavor is clean, complex and sweet. There are notes of peach, sweet cider, clover and fresh hay. It's as if the monks have created a sublimely dry wine, using only raisins and rock candy! The body is quite light, and the sweetness, though distinct, is ephemeral, clean and brief. The aftertaste has a wine-like acidity, with some bright, lemony notes. A joy.

 

Trappistes Rochefort 8
ABV: 9.2%
Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped Bottle

Availability: Purchased at the Bier Cellar

Tasting Notes: Pours a deep, burnished brown with a thin off-white head. Aroma is fresh, floral and fuming with spices and alcohol. There is some prune and grape sweetness also. The initial flavor is like a sip of liquefied raisin-bread. A dense, figgy sweetness, augmented with spiced rum raisins, cardamom and clove, brightened by a sour-apple acidity. There's a funky edge under the spice, like a whiff of barnyard blown over an apple pie cooling in a farmhouse window. The finish is agreeably dry, with rye, wet cedar, and cinnamon bark all mingling together, giving me a lot to contemplate before my next sip!

 

Chimay Cinq Cents
ABV: 8.0%
Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped Bottle

Availability: Purchased at the Bier Cellar

Tasting Notes: Pours a golden-brown with a pure white head. Aroma has clove, golden raisin, and fragrant yeast. The initial flavor has a surprising wash of fresh-baked bread, and savory biscuit. It's brief, comforting and serves to highlight the spiced flavors the rise up on my palate, bringing dried clove and nutmeg to the fore. Some floral, lemony hop character pops up with the spice, a pleasant, piquant bitterness that's more prevalent in the Cinq than with outer tripels I've sipped. The body is quite light, and the overall impression is dry, complex and refreshing. That's a surprising description for a beer that's 8 percent alcohol and comes in a tiny bottle, festooned with arcane symbols!

 

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Tripel From America

This Spring, we've been sampling beers from Belgium. We've tasted our ways through table beers (a/k/a singles), and dubbels, and this week, we're launching into an exploration of tripels. It's worth pausing to consider the differences between these styles before we start drinking. The singles we tried were spicy and mild, mostly around 5% ABV. The dubbels were darker, richer and stronger – many with ABV's exceeding 7%. Tripels are the pinnacle of this particular beer pyramid – with heavier bodies, and ABV's often greater than 9%! Considering the dubbels are darker than singles, it seems strange that tripels are pale in color. That's just one of the idiosyncratic pleasures of Belgian beer, I suppose. Cheers!

 

Allagash Tripel Ale

Format Sampled: 12 oz capped bottle

ABV: 9.0%
Availability: Purchased at the Bier Cellar
Tasting Notes: Pours a pale straw with a bone white head. Aroma fumes with clove, nutmeg and sugar. The initial flavor continues the clove theme, with a cornucopia of spicy flavors –  nutmeg, black pepper and ginger. There's a sharp, concentrated sweetness after the spices – stewed pears, chardonnay, clover honey and rock candy all squeezed together into a sweetness so intense it nearly burns. It's not cloying at all, and as it fades, there is a warm “pasta-water” solidity underneath. This lightly toasted malt base it warm and mellow: freshly baked wheat bread, toasted biscuit and pasta. This provides a solid foundation for a long, spicy aftertaste. This is a dangerously drinkable beer!

 

Anchorage Brewing Company The Tide and Its Takers Triple With Brettanomyces

Format Sampled: 22 oz capped bottle

ABV: 9.0%
Availability: Purchased at Rosemont Market & Bakery
Tasting Notes: Pours a cloudy golden yellow with a thin white head. Aroma is fresh, with sour cider vinegar and earthy barnyard funk. After the powerful acid aroma, I braced for a tongue burn – but the  initial flavor is shockingly smooth. Sure, there's a bright acid snap, but it's balanced by the incredibly light, fluid body, and  mellow sweetness. The sweetness is subtle – like heather honey, and it barely lingers long enough to balance the sour character. It's like a cold Vinho Verde, with gentle acid, faint tannin, light carbonation and little aftertaste. As it warms, I get barrel aromas: vanilla, oak, and a bit of dust.

 

Transmitter Triple Ale

Format Sampled: 750 ml corked bottle

ABV: 8.0%
Availability: Purchased at Bow Street Beverage Public Market House
Tasting Notes: Pours a cloudy orange/yellow with a thin white head. Aroma has white wine vinegar, lemon peel and lemon oil. The initial flavor kicks off with a mouthwatering acidity, immediately complimented by a quenching citrus sweetness. A beer that makes you thirsty, then quenches your thirst? Amazing. It's backed up by a potent citrus bitterness – almost like an herbal aperitif! There's a hoppy bitterness too, drying, herbal and redolent of pine and oranges. The aftertaste has orange peel, pith, and tannin, an agreeably dry, complicated flavor.

 

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Drinking from the Source: Belgian Dubbel

This month, we're taking a spring trip to Belgium, and savoring styles of beer from this small country with a remarkably diverse beer culture. This week, we'll sip some dubbels from Belgium. Dubbel is typically a darker, heartier style, with moderate ABV (6-8%). Dubbels typically feature sweeter flavors that arise from the dark candi sugar used to make them – and relatively small quantities of hops. Dubbel pairs well with rich, hearty meals – beef stew, steak, chili, and burgers. Their complexity and strength make them excellent for solitary sipping too.

 

For this week's tasting, I've selected “standard bearers” of this style from three Trappist breweries.

 

Trappistes Rochefort 6


Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped bottle

ABV: 7.5%

Availability: Purchased at Craft Bier Cellar


Tasting Notes: Pours a fuzzy amber with a thin, off-white foam. Aroma pops with apples, prune, maple syrup and hot taffy. The initial flavor has cider, raisin, and toffee. The sticky sweetness is tempered by a slight acidity and some subtly spicy hops. The body is moderately thick and syrupy, distributing the complex procession of stewed fruit flavors evenly over my palate, and lingering for many minutes. The aftertaste is distinctive — with apple butter, caramel, and a hint of nutmeg. As the beer warms, the caramel and spiced character becomes more forceful, and the body even more concentrated any syrupy. What an aperitif! With cheese, apples and a few glasses of the 6, who needs dinner?

 

Westmalle Dubbel

Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped bottle

ABV: 7.0%

Availability: Provided by Merchant du Vin


Tasting Notes: Pours a burnished brown with a thin, tan head. Aroma has cider, fresh chestnut, and green raisin. The initial flavor is savory and nutty. The mealy flavor of a roasted chestnut forms a surprisingly secure base, from which a slightly sour cider character leaps off into a spicy sunset. Forgive the lyricism, loyal reader, but this is inspiring! There are warming, spices that leap to the fore — cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger — all muted and glowing, rather than sharp and spicy. The body is surprisingly light and fluid for all the warmth and richness in the flavor. I imagine this beer on a cold fall evening, with an apple turnover and a fire ablaze!

 

Chimay Première

Format Sampled: 11.2 oz. capped bottle

ABV: 7.0%

Availability: Purchased at Craft Bier Cellar

Tasting Notes: Pours a cloudy chestnut, with a thin scrim of white head. Aroma has raisin, pipe tobacco and walnut. Initial flavor is sour, musty, sweet, and fruity — all at once! There is an overriding dustiness, a cross between a used bookstore and a damp basement. It's ephemeral, and not unpleasant. There's a tacky, concentrated fruit layer under the dust and age – a sugared concentrate of prune, stone fruit, dried cherries and apple butter. The yeast adds a spicy character to the whole lovable jumble — clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Of the three, the Chimay is the boldest, and, dare I say, funkiest of the bunch. The aftertaste has tannin, sour fruit, wood and plenty of spice. Ten minutes after the last sip, it lingers on my palate, asking me to open another.

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Dipping into Dubbel

Welcome to Belgium, loyal reader! We're spending the spring tasting beers from this small country. Last week, we tasted Belgian “table beers”; this, we're moving onto dubbels. This style (like many of the others we'll taste over the next several weeks) has its roots in the traditional brewing culture of the Trappist, a Christian monastic order that originated in La Trappe, France.

 

Dubbel has an oddly specific origin — it can be traced back to single batch of strong brown ale brewed in the Abbey of Westmalle in 1856. This week, we'll taste a few American examples of dubbel, then we'll move on to the Belgian versions.

 

Smuttynose Single Digit Dubbel
Format Sampled: 12 oz. capped bottle
ABV: 6.6%
Availability: Purchased at RSVP Discount Beverage
Tasting Notes: Pours a glowing reddish amber with a thin off-white head. Aroma has warm malt, sour cherry, and damp oak. Initial taste is round and sweet. There's a slightly sour fruity flavor — a mixture of stewed prune and preserved plum, mingled with a sweet, sticky toffee. A boozy clove complexity lingers under the sweetness. The initial sweetness dries a bit, revealing sour fruits — quince, cranberry and black cherry. A warming puff of alcohol rounds out the flavor. The aftertaste is heavy on the fruit, lingering tantalizingly on my palate.

 

Allagash Dubbel  
Format Sampled: 750 ml corked bottle
ABV: 7%
Availability: Purchased at RSVP Discount Beverage
Tasting Notes: Pours a fizzy amber, with a thin tan head. Aroma is subtly metallic and fruity, with raisin, orange and clove. Initial flavor is dry, yet fruity. There is sour cherry rye, and the delightfully damp character of damp new hay. A tannin, spiced rye note supports the fruit, lending balance to the mixture of flavors. There is a tremendous mineral structure too — dry, with a gritty, solid character like granite. The aftertaste has clove, old books, and dried cherries. This is a remarkably simple, well-made dubbel. The body is light and the flavor profile is admirably dry and complex. I don't think of dubbel as a highly drinkable style, but this example certainly is! This would be an amazing accompaniment to a stew.                                                         

 

Sierra Nevada Ovila Barrel-Aged Belgian-Style Dubbel *

Format Sampled: 750 ml corked bottle
ABV: 8.5%
Availability: Purchased at RSVP Discount Beverage
Tasting Notes: Pours a rich nut brown, with no head. Aroma has flavors of rich concord grape, currant, and brandy. Initial flavor is searchingly complex, with bright, sour grape, Merlot-soaked oak, and a distinctive caramel-cream note on the finish. This is elegantly transgressive, with the progression of flavors occupying a Venn diagram where brandy, wine, beer and crème brulee intersect. The finish is opulent, nutty and sweet without being sticky or cloying. This amplified, artful interpretation of a dubbel has all the complexity of a well-aged port, but the playfulness of a creamy dessert tart.

 

*Brewed in collaboration with the Abbey of New Clairvaux

 

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Swilling Maine Singles

 

Close your eyes, loyal reader, and join me on a magical journey. We're going to a tiny country, approximately the size of Maryland, that nonetheless supports three official languages. Citizens here consume an average of 84 liters of beer per year. We're going to Belgium!

 

Despite its small surface area, Belgium is a giant in the beer world. With a beer culture that predates the crusades, it's no surprise that this tiny country has created a remarkably diverse ecosystem of beer styles.

For the next several weeks, I'm going to take you on tour, tasting styles of beer from Belgium. We're going to ramp up gradually, to give our livers and palates time to adjust. This week, we'll start by tasting some Belgian singles, otherwise known as table beers or tafelbier. These light, low-alcohol beers are designed to quench thirst, and were even provided to Belgian school children as an alternative to heavily sweetened soft-drinks. In a traditional Trappist Monastery, singles were brewed for consumption by the monks, who needed something to drink while they attended to the heavy work of brewing higher-alcohol styles. 

 

Table beers are light, refreshing and flavorful. Pair them with heavily salted french fries (invented in Belgium!), or literally anything else. I challenge you to find something that these versatile beers don't compliment.

Liquid Riot Primus Table Beer

Format Sampled: 16 oz. can

Availability: Purchased at Rosemont Market & Bakery

ABV: 4.2%

Tasting Notes: Pours a pale, cloudy yellow, with a thin scrim of pure white head. Aroma is fresh with clove, pear and flowers. The initial taste is sly and sweet, with a mellow wheat flavor. The initial taste is augmented with clove, fresh apple and set off with a faint, peppery bite. The flavor is unobtrusive, but certainly not one-dimensional. The body is light and slick and remarkably quenching. I'm at a loss — this beer exists in such subtlety and balance, there simply isn't much to say. No amount of adjectives is sufficient to convey the simple, refreshing experience of tipping this back with a plate of fajitas. If I had enough beer and fajitas, loyal reader, I'd invite you to share them so you could experience it for yourself.

Allagash Hoppy Table Beer

Format Sampled: 12 oz. capped bottle

Availability:Purchased at Rosemont Market & Bakery

ABV: 4.8%

Tasting Notes: Pours a clear, sparkling light yellow with an ephemeral head of bright, white foam. Aroma has citrus zest, damp pine and a characteristic Belgian aroma. Initial flavor is bright and zippy. There's a snappy, fresh lemon zest flavor, amplified by a bitter prickle of piney hop. It's a quick flash of bitterness that fades away almost as quickly as it illuminates my palate, bright and brief as a flashbulb popping. A warm, mild malt aroma slides in to fill the negative space. The malt is sweetened by cloves, savory yeast, and a hint of that funky, undefinable Belgian character. Like the Primus, this is supremely simple and refreshing. Though it's not a highly hopped beer, even the relatively modest hopping rate pops in comparison to the Primus.

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Over a Barrel with Maine Stout

 

Last week's tasting of Barrel Aged Stout was supposed to mark the dark climax of a month-long exploration of darker beers. Then, a blast of frigid air descended, weakening my resolve, and the combined opportunity to taste local stouts, and use the phrase “dark climax,” proved too much. This week, I'll be sipping several local barrel aged stouts. These intensely aromatic beers benefit from a wide -mouthed glass (like a snifter, or a chalice) and a  warmer serving temperature. This encourages the evaporation of the volatile chemicals that create the potent aroma of this style.

Rising Tide Polaris

Format Sampled: 375 ml corked bottle
ABV: 8.0%
Availability: Purchased at Rosemont Market & Bakery

Tasting Notes: Pours a glossy black with a fizzy tan head that rapidly fades. Aroma is bright with sour cherry, oak, and vinegar. The initial flavor is a puzzle of contrasting flavors. First, there is brisk, sour stone fruit — sparkling, acidic and piquant. Simultaneously, there's a brooding toffee flavor, accented with some cocoa. It's as if a Lambic was blended with a stout, and lovingly aged in bourbon barrel. Speaking of which, after the contradictory opening, there's a smooth, strong burn that trails down my throat – like a finely aged dark rum. Zang! The Polaris has a supernova of flavor hiding underneath a complex nebula of contrasting acid and sweet flavors. The aftertaste has plum, raisin and tobacco, a suitably complex finish to a unique beer.

Allagash Brewing Company St. Klippenstein

Format Sampled: 750 ml corked bottle
ABV: 11%
Availability: Purchased at Rosemont Market & Bakery

Tasting Notes: Pours a flat black with a compact tan head. Aroma mixes sweet chocolate, floral notes, and a fruity Belgian character. The first sip has dense, concentrated chocolate, fruity esters,  Madeira and a soaring note of floral alcohol. There is a balanced bitterness in the first sip,  providing a tart contrast to the chocolate. As the beer warms, the “Belgian” character of the yeast predominates, evolving into something reminiscent of a dessert wine. There's clove, coconut, vanilla and a  hint of sour cider. The body is almost syrupy. The fruited, cocoa flavor coats my palate, and lingers pleasantly, mixing with a surprisingly bitter aftertaste.  This is a profound beer, but the fruity Belgian character keeps it light and playful.

Geary's Smoke Show*

Format Sampled: 8 oz. serving in a tulip glass
ABV: 11%
Availability: On tap at Foulmouthed Brewing Company

Tasting Notes: Pours an opaque black with a huge, thick tan head. Aroma has apple, cherry and a wisp of whiskey. The initial flavor is sweet, like a compote of sour fruit, dry cocoa, and a lively burst of acid. There's a distinct alcohol flavor, but it's more fruity than hot. As it warms, raisin, dried plum, and sweet espresso flavors arise and mingle. The body is light, fluid and playful, and the flavor profile is remarkably smooth and light for a beer of such strength. The smoke show is dangerously easy to drink, but, oddly, there is no discernible smoke flavor or aroma.


*Brewed in collaboration with Foulmouthed Brewing staff.

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Explore ultimate darkness with bourbon barrel-aged stouts

It's been a tremendous month of dark beer, loyal readers. We've sipped sweet, milky, and salted caramel stouts. This week, we're going to explore the platonic ideal of dark beers: barrel-aged stout. What could be darker than that?

Nothing, except perhaps if a Russian Imperial Stout was fermented in a black hole and served only to people wearing sunglasses at midnight. Absurdities aside, barrel-aged stouts are aged in wooden barrels for as long as several years. During this long meditation, it absorbs flavors from the wood, and from whatever was stored in the barrel before — typically wine or a distilled spirit. The result is a rich, robust flavor. These stouts are best enjoyed from an ample snifter, in the company of friends.

North Coast Brewing Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin XIX
Format Sampled: 500 ml corked bottle
ABV: 11.2%
Available: Purchased at Rosemont Market & Bakery
Tasting Notes: Pours an elegant black with a dense tan head. Aroma has opulent caramel and fruity bourbon fumes. The initial flavor is redolent of buttered crème brulee, dark toffee, toasted vanilla beans and rich bourbon. For all its intensity and concentration, the flavor has a lively, fun character. The coquettish sweetness dissipates as the flavor evolves into something more serious. There's some bourbon burn that glows in my gullet. As it warms, the alcohol character slips out from behind the sweet disguise and asserts itself. The aftertaste reveals a hint of sourness and plenty of lovely wood. Rasputin is fun yet forceful, strong yet subtle.

Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

Available: Purchased at  Whole Foods

Format Sampled: 19.2 fl oz. can

ABV: 12.9%
Tasting Notes: Practically crawls out in a viscous, crude-oil-thick pour, raising a thin head of dark brown foam. Aroma has black licorice, unsweetened chocolate, espresso and whiskey fumes. The initial flavor is a fudge-soaked rush or concentrated chocolate paste, bourbon-filled candies and dense, dark malt. The body is so thick, it could be cut with a putty knife. The alcohol hits the back of my throat like a fudgesicle wrapped in whiskey-soaked black velvet. The aftertaste is owned by the bourbon barrel, with spicy, woody tannin, and dry, unsweetened chocolate. The Old Rasputin is intense, but it's a lightweight compared to this. Find a good friend, a weighty topic, and a long evening to enjoy this stout.

Farnham 65 Imperial Russsian Stout

Available: Purchased at Whole Foods

Format Sampled: 16 fl oz. can

ABV: 7.8%
Tasting Notes: Pours a dark brownish black with a thick, enduring tan head. Aroma has boozy cocoa and fresh chocolate milk. The first sip is rich and creamy, with a concentrated chocolate flavor. It's slinky and playful. A serious, charred bitterness emerges and evolves into a refined, dry woody astringency. The body is weighty and creamy, but not nearly as heavy as the Ten Fidy. This is a fun, substantial stout, and would be an amazing accompaniment to desserts.

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