Stouts for an Empire

It’s been a fairly dry start to the year, hence this is the first post since Christmas. I have, however, been brewing and since Jess and I jointly brewed our very own Imperial Stout I’ve been keeping an eye out for others to try.

We are big fans of a couple of Belgian examples, Hercule, named after Jess’s favourite Belgian detective and Black Albert from Struise, named after the last King of Belgium. I’ve also always been intrigued by Brewdog’s offerings in this area, though have never tried any, so visited their Birmingham bar to pick up a couple of bottles. Incredibly they have a line up of five, ranging in price from £11 to a lot! I chose two from the lower part of the range, their ‘historic’ version and the Arran whisky aged Paradox.

Unfortunately we couldn’t get an Hercule into the test as we’d, er, drunk all of our stock, it was in last year’s stout test here though. So, we decided to put in our own Queen of the Night to see how it compared, lining up against the two Brewdog bottles and a Black Albert. This still represented quite a lot of alcohol as the beers were 9.5, 11, 13 and 15% so we invited Moritz round to help out. As a big Struise fan he was only too happy to oblige, Black Alberts are hard to get hold of round these parts!

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Jess took care of pouring duties so the test was blind for Moritz and myself then we settled round the fire with four glasses of absolute blackness, all with deep brown heads of varying sizes. I started with one which tasted pretty much of just strong stout- roasted barley flavours with a thick body, an alcoholic warmth and a hint of smokyness which Moritz pointed out. Fairly full on but smooth enough, I liked this quite a bit.

Next I tried the glass with the least head, this rather gave away which beer it was but more of that later, here the flavour was not quite so bright but deeper with some hints of dark fruits, more of an alcohol presence and an even thicker body. Again interesting and enjoyable.

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My third sample was subler, first giving away very smooth roasted stout flavours then developing some interesting candied citrus peel and spice flavours. The mouth feel was certainly of quite a thick beer but also an incredibly velvety smooth drink helped by a lightness from the full, but not in any way harsh, carbonation. Unlike all the others this beer seemed, rather than to jump in your face with flavour, to be a bit more laid back and wait for you to discover it’s intricacies. Very lovely though I ended up thinking it wasn’t massively stouty.

My last sample gave itself away immediately with a massive sweet aroma of whisky. This one is very intense, very sweet and totally dominated by that whisky taste which actually becomes almost like honey in the mouth and leaves a lingering sweetness that made it almost impossible to taste anything else after. Moritz quite enjoyed this one at first, he’s a fan of big sweet beers like double bocks, etc, but even he eventually found, as Jess and I had immediately, it’s a bit too much, a bit cloying.

The last was obviously the Paradox and a bit of a disappointment. The third was Black Albert which surprised us with it’s subtlety. My pick of the bunch, it had fascinating complexity and was all the better for not punching you in the face. The second was our Queen of the Night which we’re tentatively happy with but need to improve carbonation on and the first was Brewdog’s historic IS. This went down well with everyone with it’s strong but rounded character and proved for us less can be more.

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