Today I’m drinking a product of one of the local breweries after a long, long day at work. Brooklyn Brewery, located in Williamsburg and easily reachable on the L train, has brewed beer since the late 1980s, and in their current location since 1996. Today, beer destined for twelve-ounce bottles is brewed at the F.X. Matt brewery in Utica, New York (obviously Brooklyn oversees the brewing process), as is much of the kegged product, while smaller-batch beers like the special Brewmaster’s Reserve series and some others are brewed in Brooklyn.
Black Chocolate Stout is the brainchild of brewmaster Garrett Oliver; while the beer has no chocolate in it, use of chocolate malt — a dark, not-so-roasted barley grain — along with other specialty malts give the beer its characteristic look, mouthfeel and of course taste (which isn’t really like chocolate at all). It’s typically available from mid-autumn through winter. For many years, the brewery assumed this beer was 8.5% alcohol by volume, since that’s what the recipe generated the last time they’d tested it. A few years ago, it was checked again, and it had risen to 10.5%. Whoops. This year’s batch — Winter ’09-’10 — clocks in at a respectable 10%, or twice the standard mass-produced lager.
Black Chocolate Stout is an Imperial Stout by style. Imperial Stouts, like stouts in general, tend toward roastiness and dark fruit aroma and flavor, with many also displaying a heavy amount of hop bitterness (as opposed to just roasted barley bitterness). Brew your stout recipe with more grain to finish with a higher alcohol content, and you’re creating an Imperial Stout, known also as a Russian Imperial Stout due to the style’s roots as a beer brewed to a higher gravity for the voyage east from England to the Russian Imperial Court, as well as the Baltic states. The style continues to be brewed today in these areas, but as usual, the Americans are brewing this style with many variations on this theme.
I pour the Black Chocolate Stout into my trusty Brooklyn Brewery snifter. While the beer is nearly completely black, it’s really a dark, dark brown, as evidenced at the edges, and topped with a rather thin tan head which doesn’t appreciate being revived in the glass. The nose is filled with plummy, red wine aromas, coupled with a bit of alcohol burn and topped with a bit of molasses sweetness. I really don’t get the roastiness of this beer in the nose.
That roastiness, however, comes through in spades in the flavor, running roughshod over the palate, and trailed closely by the alcohol pricking the tongue on first sipping this beer. There’s a sort of unsweetened chocolate to the taste as well, off to the side really. As the beer warms I pick up the plummy sensation from the nose again, but otherwise it stays hidden. While this style often showcases a bit of flavor and a lot of bitterness from the hops, Brooklyn chose to mute that considerably, letting the malt absolutely dominate the flavor. Staying in character, the Black Chocolate Stout feels thick and chewy in the mouth, owing partly to the low carbonation typical of the style. The beer finishes massively roasty too, sticking to my mouth as it goes down my throat, leaving a long, long aftertaste.
If you like your beer roasty and complex, you will want to try, or if it’s been a while, revisit the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. Sure, this beer and this style do not exactly lend themselves to a beer drinker used to light lagers, but y’know, sometimes you have to jump right in without dipping a toe. I don’t consider this beer overwhelming; rather, it’s perfect for nursing on a cold evening or enjoying after dinner. While I loathe pairing a specific beer with a specific food – most beer “goes with” most food – it’s not really a food beer but, like most stouts, a better dessert or cheese beer as it will overwhelm the flavors in most dishes.
Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout deserves space in your refrigerator, and even in your “cellar.” Even though it isn’t bottle-conditioned (we talked about this with Sierra Nevada Bigfoot last week), oxidation of the beer will cause some interesting toffee and port-wine flavors to develop over time, so consider putting a few bottles aside in the closet for a year or two to compare to the next year’s release of this consistently good beer. Black Chocolate Stout is available in the now-trendy four-pack for $10 at Whole Foods, a fairly good price for a quality local beer. Look for it on tap for another month or so as well!