What makes a good beer? Is it one that follows the style guidelines to the letter? Can a beer be bad if it hits every checkmark in the BJCP or Brewers Association style books? Is being a good beer something more? Something ineffable? Can a slavish devotion to style a detriment?
The Baltika Russian Imperial Stout hits all the markers of what a Russian Imperial Stout should be.
Color: Dark brown with a slight opacity/chill haze. Check
Aroma: Roasted with slight dark fruit and low floral hops. Check
Taste: Malt bitterness, a taste of alcohol, and dark fruit. Check
Mouthfeel: Chewy and medium to heavy mouthfeel. Check
Here is the problem. While it hits all the check marks it is still not a good beer. There is no subtlety or art to the beer. This is a brusk, harsh beer. Russian Imperial Stouts should be roasty and forceful, but here it blows past roasty into charred. Combined with the very noticeable alcohol flavor and warmth, it makes this beer borderline undrinkable. I know a baker who loves using this beer in her cakes and cookies. The over the top nature of the malt flavor combined with the distinct alcohol presence makes this a good beer for using in cooking and a bad beer for everyday drinking.
For the ABV, this beer is a ridiculous value. You will find it for less than $4 almost everywhere and it clocks in at 10% ABV. This may be the sole reason for its existence.
What is a classic? Pyscho is a classic. The Old Man and The Sea is a classic. However, they are static. They are forever unchanging. Our interpretations of them may shift as our cultural and social lenses shift, but they are essentially what they are.
Hamlet is also a classic, but it is different. Hamlet as it is performed on stage changes from night to night. It is also different when it is interpreted by different directors and actors. That is more what classic beers are like. They morph and shift from year to year and from brewer to brewer. That is what makes yearly seasonal offerings so interesting. They are the same, yet they are always different.
Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout is one of those classic winter seasonals. It pours dark brown almost black forming a nice light brown head. It has a nice clarity and carbonation, but it is opaque with the occasional ruby highlights.
On the initial nose, you get a lot of coffee and bitter chocolate. As it warms you also get plums and other dark fruit. There isn’t much if any hop aroma. You also get an alcohol aroma, if you can call it that.
The flavor is a good reflection of the aroma. This isn’t a beer trying to trick you or play games with your expectations. You get the dark chocolate and coffee flavors. The plums and other dark fruit come through on the back end as well as a nice flavor of alcohol. It isn’t overwhelming but it is there to remind you this is a 10.5% beer. The bitterness you taste is a combination of the hops and bitterness from the dark malts that contribute the coffee flavors.
The mouthfeel is the one place this beer surprises. The smoothness provided by the oatmeal included in the malt bill makes it easy to drink and gives It an almost medium mouth weight. The alcohol warms you as it goes down making this a great cold weather beer. It finishes with that warmth and the dark chocolate/coffee taste lingering long enough to make you feel good and want another sip.
This is one of those dangerous dark winter beers. The high ABV is hidden by the expert deployment of dark malts and brewing skill.
It could be easy to make fun of Grimm as the epitome of hipsterism. It is a brewery headquartered in Brooklyn started by artists and musicians who strive to use locally sourced ingredients and the official name of the brewery is Grimm Artisan Ales (italics mine).
However, then you taste the beer and you understand they are serious beer makers. While the brewery is best known for its double IPAs and sours, the Double Negative Imperial Stout is my favorite of their beers and highlights how serious Grimm is about making good beer.
Weighing in at 10 percent, Double Negative isn’t as inky black as you would expect. It is a deep brown almost black color like that of a good French roast coffee with no cream. I had a slight haze and good carbonation. You get a nice tan almost light brown head on the pour that dissipated quickly in my glass (I’m assuming it was beer clean since I cleaned it.)
On the nose, my bottle had a slightly leathery aroma up front that turned into dark fruit and bitter chocolate as it warmed in the glass with little hop aroma.
I immediately got the taste of coffee up front followed by bitter chocolate as the beer worked through my palate. I got very little hop bitterness. All the bitterness comes from the dark malt giving the coffee taste but there is just enough dark chocolate sweetness to offset it.
My bottle had a surprisingly medium mouthfeel. It didn’t cling to my tongue and palate and finished nice and clean. The chocolate and alcohol linger a bit and there is a nice alcohol warmth in the beer. The carbonation helps keep it crisp and provides for that clean finish.
This is an overall excellent beer and serves as a good base for its barrel-aged variants.
“Dude, you’ve lost a whole person.”
One of my bartenders told me that after seeing a photo of me on his phone from April.
I haven’t been writing for a while. You may have noticed. There are two reasons for that.
The first is in February I had an incident that made me go to the doctor. Long story short, I had elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels. We got to it early enough that the doctor said it would be taken care of with exercise and a much better diet. So, since March that is what I’ve been doing. I eat much better now. That was the key to losing all the weight. When you tell people you are a vegetarian, they automatically think you are eating healthy. Believe me, you can eat like crap as a vegetarian. I was living proof.
I also now walk six miles every morning. That takes up the chunk of time that used to be dedicated to writing. However, I’ve lost almost sixty pounds and feel infinitely better.
The other thing that happened was Wicked Weed was purchased by AB-InBev. That in and of itself was not the trigger. It was the carping and vitriol unleashed by the sale that pushed me off Twitter and away from writing. Throw in trying to study for the Cicerone exam (twice) and writing about beer didn’t seem too important.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t been drinking and thinking about beer and keeping notes. I’ve been doing a lot of that and if you go to my Instagram feed or my Untappd account you will see all that I’ve been drinking.
I’ve been keeping lots of notes and soon (this coming Sunday in fact) I’m going to start posting reviews again. My intent is also to start posting daily again. First, I must figure out how to do it in a way that will make it interesting to me and therefore readers.
This has a been a long and interesting eight months. I’m not a different person, but I am a better version of myself. I hope that is reflected in the writing to come.