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Monday, February 17, 2014

Great Lakes Brewing Co's Blackout Stout

  • Style: Russian Imperial Stout (RIS)
  • ABV: 9.00%
  • Season: Starts showing up in November and lasts most of the Winter season.  This is an excellent snowy day sort of beer
  • Ease to locate: Relatively easy as long as you live East of the Mississippi River (or in Minnesota.  They must be fans of the Cohen Brothers.)  Here's a link to their beer finder, dontcha know?
  • Color: Black and completely opaque.  I've had dark RISes before, but this one seemed like it could suck my soul right into the bottle.  Sweet.
  • Head: Almost two finger khaki head with oodles of thick lacing sticking to the snifter.  And yes, oodles is a technical term.
  • Aroma: A heavy nose with dark chocolate, roasted malt, some coffee, bits of caramel and vanilla with a slight hint of alcohol on the very tail
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body yet still creamy and slightly carbonated. 
  • Finish: Long with a tasty almost citrus bitterness on the end.  A warmness from the alcohol shows up on the tail as well.
  • Food friendly?: RIS is a difficult beer to pair with food.  If you absolutely needed to serve it with something, try a grilled medium rare (err on the rare side) hunk of beef.  It's basically desert in a glass, but you could also try it with a couple of homemade butter cookies on the side.  Personally, I like a mild yet nutty cheese such as Blarney.

Apple Users Link: Here's another thing I should probably remember, but don't. Anyone recall Peter Wolf???? Anyone?  Bueller?
                                                                                                          You should watch this if only to remind yourself that some dance moves are better left in the dark. 

Apparently back in the Summer of 2003 there was a massive blackout that affected a good portion of the Eastern half of the US.  But not Chicago. So I have absolutely no memory of it beyond a vague feeling that there was a How I Met Your Mother episode devoted to it that Fall (although, it could have been a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy show now that I think about it.  I'm almost definitely sure that it wasn't Star Trek: Enterprise.  Maybe.)   Luckily for us, Cleveland was in the dark.  Well, maybe not so lucky for them, but we got a really good beer out it at least. So that's worth almost utter chaos and apocalyptic fever, right? Thank god Facebook wasn't a huge thing then or else people might still be in therapy  over the unfortunate day. I don't even like it when I can't get my email to immediately load.



My Blackout Stout was a dark as a moonless night.  Black, black and deeper black liquid poured into the snifter (and why yes, that is a 25th Anniversary Great Lakes snifter.  Nice huh?) resulting in a completely opaque beer.  Almost two fingers worth of khaki foam rose in the glass and took it's RIS sweet time in settling down.  Clumps of sticky, thick lace clung to the sides of the snifter. It's been a while since I've seen such gorgeous lacing in any sort of a stout.  The nose was a honker too.   So looks AND substance?  Be still my beating heart (well, not literally.  Because then I'd be dead and it's difficult to drink when one has expired.  Not impossible though.  I am Irish after all.)   I could smell the dark, bitter sweet chocolate immediately.  Roasted dark malts and coffee were layered under the chocolate with bits of caramel with a little vanilla as well.  The taste was similar to the nose, with an abundance of bitter, dark chocolate.  To a lesser extent there was roasted malt, a good amount of coffee and chewy dark fruits.  There was an underlying sweetness playing around in the mouth too.

 Great Lakes lists their malt selection as Harrington 2-Row Base Malt, Crystal 77, Black Malt and Roasted Barley.  As far as I can tell (and I'm not as well versed in malt education as I'd like to be.  Then again, I can quote almost the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer so we all have our strengths) but I believe that Black Malt and Roasted Barley are resposnible for the deep color of the beer, while Crystal 77 gives it the underlying sweetness I mentioned earlier.  What I found interesting was that Harrington 2-Row Base Malt (and by the way,why does this malt sound like it was named by an accountant?) is sort of the vanilla of the malt world.  Often chefs will add vanilla to a recipe, not to incorporate the essence of vanilla flavor, but instead to enhance the rest of the flavor notes involved.  Harrington Blah Blah Blah (which, in my humble opinion, is a much better name) works in the same sort of way for Blackout Stout.  Also worth noting, this RIS has a IBU of 50 (OMG! Actually, RIS typically go up to almost 90 IBUS so 50 is pretty middle of the pack.)  Their hop profile is a bit unusual for a RIS however.  Great Lakes uses Northern Brewer which is a typical English sort of hop.  Where they break tradition is by adding Simcoe to the batch.  Now, I love Simcoe as a bittering hop.  I'm just used to it in my IPA (think Pipework's Simcoe Ninja.)  In a stout?  That's thinking outside the box. And it totally works.  There's a layered complexity to the bitterness that you don't often find in Imperial Stouts.  The mouthfeel was only medium bodied, but there was sill a creaminess present that coated the tongue in that delightful RIS sort of way.  A long finish with a citrusy bitterness and a comforting, lightly boozy, heat ended the sip in an amazing style.

Personally I prefer to sip most Russian Imperial Stouts, including Great Lake Brewing's Blackout Stout, by itself.  Heavy, chewy, creamy beers are almost meals in and of themselves.  It's trendy this time of year to pair craft beer and Girl Scout Cookies for some reason.  Let's just say that if this was the case thirty odd years ago, I would have made a killing.  So if you have a box of Trefoils sitting around, this is the beer to drink with them.  But say you're the type that gets more than just the munchies around full snifter glasses.  You could try pairing Blackout Stout with a simply prepared, perfectly grilled piece of steak  Serve the steak with a baked potato and maybe some Sauteed Green Beans with Slivered Almonds and you have yourself a delicious feast fit for a king.  Or Czar.   In any case, if I should happen to get stuck in the dark during an apocalyptic loss of power, at least I know that I'll have something good to drink while I wait for the mongrel hordes to reach my front door.