Washington, Vermont, New York, Oregon,
Pennsylvania and California
Life is tough. Life needs little projects. I found all of these lovery little brown bottles at the excellent Finger Lakes Beverage Center in Ithaca, NY and was able to buy singles of each - though the Southern Tier Porter came in a mixed 12 pack I picked up. They represent parts of the range of dark ales above brown ale. There are two dark porters, a mocha porter, an organic oatmeal stout, an imperial oatmeal stout and the granddaddy of them all a Russian Imperial stout. Mmmmm...roasty malty goodness.
- Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout: certified organic from Middlebury, Vermont. Effervescent, dark brown ale under a smooth rich tan head. Lots of flavour and lots of flavours. Not a slave to the silky texture oats impart, this beer also has plenty of hops, roasty grain and yeasty goodness - all in one smooth balanced beer. The hops are not as minty as Guinness's norther brewer variety. I am thinking the citrus rind of Cascade. In the grain there is a bit of cocoa, a bit of coffee and a nice brown breadiness from the interaction with the creamy biscuity yeast. The finish goes dry, leaving the roast and then just the hops. A very fine complex medium weight example.
- Stoudt's Fat Dog Imperial Stout: from Adamstown, Pennsylvania. After my first contact with Stoudt through their Double IPA, I am going to need more than a moment with this brew. Darker brown with red notes under a mocha head that dissipated quickly. The sensation of this 9% ale's strength is a little like a black rum and coke - which is to be expected as 9% amounts to around one oz. shot of 80 proof being added to a regular beer or two shots to a pop/soda. But that is a side track, a red herring. When beers are like this you have to think of them more like great port or sherry as opposed to table wine. Expect the flavours to open up over time. The body is fairly hefty, though it is not overdone - there is no massive attack of roasted grains though they are there as a supporting cast. There is some chocolate but mainly a lot of rich dark malt, pumpernickle. The hops are also there but far further in the background than the Wolaver's. Underneath it all there is a rich double cream yeast that fills in gaps in concert with the smoothness of the oats. Quite extraordinary. And that was all from the first two sips. An hour later, two more flavours came out - licorice and some fruit which, surprisingly, I would not call dried fruit so much as plum and maybe apricot. Again complex and very worthy.
- Southern Tier Dark Porter: from Lakewood, New York. I like this porter a lot. A good honest roasty dark ale with body to match. Too often porters or the slightly lighter style called dark ale are just darkened versions of the brewer's pale ale. But this beer has a good amount of roasted grain, some coffee and a bit of bitter chocolate all over a nice rich biscuity yeast. Not as complex as the beers above but more of an everyday porter.
- Grant's Perfect Porter: from Yakima, Washington. I am quite surprised how much lighter this porter is compared to the southern tier. Its light tan head dissipates to a skim quickly over the mahogony ale. Chocolate mousse smelly. I would really call this a dark and not a porter but I should not as this is a Bert Grant's beer. Up front there is some roast but it fades away a little sooner than I would like revealing a bit of vanilla cream and then a bit of edgy vegetative hop and smoke. I recall the Burton Bridge porter I had in 2001 or so and its lack of balance to my mind - too thin, too sharp - which later learned that it was more historically accurate. This is like the same elements placed in more modern balance - a bit of sour in the yeast, a bit of sharp in the end but better balanced than the Burton. I don't know if I can call this tasty or attractive. At 4% a lower strength expression of the style.
- Rogue Mocha Porter: from Eugene, Oregon. A skim of tan head over deep brown ale. Big hop tang across the roof of my mouth - minty, lime rind - over the top of dusty chocolate and black malt. Not so much mocha beer as mug of joe beer. Somewhat discordant, a bit sharp here and a bit dry roasty there. I don't know if the yeast is really pulling its weight but, still all in all it's got full flavour and real flavour. Not as tough a call as the Grant's but there is a lot of thinking required with this beer.
- Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout: from Fort Bragg, California. Very nicely balanced for a 8.9% beer. Lots and lots of roasty-toasty roast barley imparting a garnet hue to the inky ale, its tan head quickly dissipating. The hops are not minty and the nose is actually floral with a fair bit of black rum Christmas cake dry fruitiness as well. There is a lot of heat with hoppy spicy over the roasted black malt and roast barley and with a creamy heart. A very nice example of a well layered beer - like a big red wine lots and lots of flavours that open up over time. It would be interesting to do a side by side with Freeminer Deep Shaft, my favorite stout since I began these notes.