Beer Review: Conclave Brewing’s Sable

Name: Sable
Brewing Company: Conclave Brewing Company
Location: Flemington, NJ
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 11.3%

“A big flavorful stout from one of the brewing gems of the Great Garden State.”

From the description of the beer on untappd:

Ever since we moved to the new brewery we wanted to brew a big stout – Sable is it! Formulated with a Maris Otter base, a lot of flaked oats and a bevy of roasted malts, we came pretty close to maxing out the system. On top of that we conditioned it on the most amazing vanilla beans from Vanuatu. It’s a rich intense brew with big complex flavors and a warming finish.

Just before the Pandemic took hold of the world in early 2020, Conclave Brewing moved one building over to a larger facility that allowed for ramped up production. They doubled their tap list and started more crowler and can releases. Many of those have been IPAs, but I was hoping they’d release a new stout and or dark beer. Sable is that beer, as they state in the description, this beer needed the larger capacity to brew and as such, Sable my first new beer review of 2021. Conclave has proven that their measured approach to brewing pays off in this big stout.

Conclave’s IPAs are popular and beloved and while I’ve enjoyed just about every IPA I’ve had from them, as readers of this blog are aware, I have always been more of a dark beer drinker. Conclave’s stouts and porters are outstanding; Mexican Morning, Mexican Evening, and Espresso Morning Stout are just superb and their Vanilla Porter, Grey Havens from a couple of years ago was delightful. In other words, I was very excited to get a growler fill of this beer

I opened the growler the day after I bought the beer but it still held up with some carbonation for a thin head. Overall, the blackness of the beer screams Imperial Stout. Aroma? Check…I get some of that vanilla overlaying the roasted malt.

My first thought about this beer is how it resonates with one of my favorite stouts, Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal Imperial Stout. The big roasted malt element and the potent hops are similar in a lot of good ways. Then that vanilla slides into the flavor profile, and brings a welcome element to balance out the big dose of hops. I imagine if Sierra Nevada made a Vanilla variant of Narwhal (maybe they have), it might taste similar to Sable from Conclave.

Most of the beer I’ve been seeing and enjoying with Vanilla highlights the island of Madagascar as origin of the Vanilla . I’d never heard of Vanuatu before this beer, but it is an island in the South Pacific. That factoid doesn’t really have too much play on the taste of the beer, just more of an anecdote. Anyway, what I appreciate most about the Vanilla component is that it comes through just a shade more potent than subtle. What does that mean? The Vanilla doesn’t scream at you the way I’ve experienced in some beers, but rather a natural element of the beer.

I managed to enjoy the full 32oz half-growler over the course of the evening and would welcome more of this beer in the future.

Sable is a bold, potent announcement of a beer from Conclave that proclaims, “Yeah, we do great IPAs, but don’t forget our Stouts are as equally delicious!”

Recommended, link to Untappd 4-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Flying Fish Brewing’s Fried Ice Cream Stout

Name: Fried Ice Cream Stout
Brewing Company: Flying Fish Brewing Company
Location: Somerdale, NJ
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 10.3%

“A delicious, decadent dessert stout from one of NJ’s classic craft breweries.”

From the description Flying Fish’s page for the beer:

Imperial stout and fried ice cream flavors together….Why not indulge in two great things at once? This rich and complex stout provides ample aromas of roasted malt and vanilla, then gets paired with real vanilla ice cream, flavors of cinnamon, and dark chocolate to produce a truly unique treat.

It has been about two and a half years since I reviewed a beer from the venerable Flying Fish Brewing Company, one NJ’s first craft breweries and the largest in the State.  Flying Fish is continuing to brew interesting beers in a wide range of styles and they’ve been updating their look over the last couple of years to be more modern. To that point, today’s beer, Fried Ice Cream Stout, was originally brewed and canned by Flying Fish about two years ago for the first time as a limited release but  the popularity of the decadent dessert stout pushed it into an annual winter release.

Fried Ice Cream…a dessert I remember enjoying at the old Mexican chain restaurant, Chi Chi’s and dessert that is apparently popular in Philadelphia (Flying Fish is just over the bridge from the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area). A fascinating desert which is a ball of ice cream quick fried in a crusty topping that may include crushed cereal, cinnamon, sugar, cinnamon sugar, maybe some chocolate syrup and if you were a good kid and ate all your dinner, a cherry on top. The brewers at Flying Fish sought to emulate that decadent dessert in beer form. Spoiler alert: they succeeded. Read on for my thoughts on how I think they succeeded.

So what do we have in the glass? A very dark, black beer that pours with a substantial, spongy-looking head. I could be convinced that there’s a dark red/crimson tint around the glass where the fluffy head meets the glass. Maybe that’s from the cinnamon? Regardless, everything about this beer form a visual perspective is that of an appealing Imperial Stout.

The beer passes the first sip test, a blend of intriguing flavors that makes me want to have more. As I enjoy the beer over the course of about an hour or so, the flavors noted on the description emerge more prominently. There’s a creaminess to the beer that likely comes from the ice cream, obviously. Some vanilla, which is really nice and welcoming. A bit of cinnamon comes through, although I wouldn’t mind if the cinnamon was more prominent. On the finish, there’s that bittersweet chocolate along with the roasted malts, emulating the hot fudge topping.

As I pointed out, with this beer clocking in at 10.3% ABV, I took my time and was rewarded. The flavors were present when the beer was just out of the can, but they became more assertive as the beer warmed slightly with perhaps the chocolate standing out the most. The creamy feel of the beer is present the whole time, truly giving this beer the overall feel of “ice cream as beer” or “ice cream in beer form.” It just works for me.

I couldn’t tell you when I last enjoyed some Fried Ice Cream, it was probably 20-30 years ago so I can’t exactly compare what the beer is doing compared to my memories of that decadent dessert. What I can say is this: Flying Fish’s Fried Ice Cream Stout is a lovely stout that is a masterful blend of multiple flavors that complement each other rather than muddle each other.

Fried Ice Cream Stout is a delicious Imperial Stout that makes for a perfect dessert. It is also a beer that proves Flying Fish is still very much a brewery worth enjoying and brewing beer worth finding.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Beer Review: Cosm of Darkness (Timber Ales/Eight State Brewing Collaboration)

Name: Cosm of Darkness
Brewing Company: Timber Ales in collaboration with The Eight State Brewing Company
Location: New York, NY / Greenville, SC
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 12%

“An outstanding Imperial Stout crafted with multiple adjuncts that is a bounty of flavor.”

From the untappd description of the beer:

Cosm of Darkness is an Imperial Stout brewed in collaboration with our friends from The Eighth State Brewing Company. This beer has been aged on Ugandan vanilla beans and cassia bark before being canned for your enjoyment.

Few beers are as welcome on a cool evening as a big, bold stout. Timber Ales is a relatively new brewing company, a contract brewer at that, but they have burst out of the gates with big stouts/barrel-aged stouts and barleywines/barrel-aged barleywines, as well as the requisite IPAs. One of my local shops had a single of this beer for sale and based on hearing Jason Stein on Al Gattullo’s Craft Beer Podcast, I had to give a beer from Timber Ales a try.

Pouring the beer into the glass, all I see is darkness and I like it. As the head forms, there’s a hint brownish red, which is a slightly different tone than a typical stout. Aroma from the beer hints at the vanilla the can indicates is in the beer. This looks to be, and has the aroma of, everything I want in a big Imperial Stout.

There’s something else to the beer at the outset lending additional layers to the look and aroma. I assume it is the cassia bark. Before having this beer, I never heard of cassia bark. A quick google search educated me – it is essentially a form of cinnamon. In theory, cinnamon and vanilla pair very nicely together. In practice, in the form of this beer…oh hell yeah.

First sip is of roasted malts with hints of vanilla with the cassia bark shining through. Those three elements are the basis of the flavor of the beer and they all play together perfectly, with the cassia bark perhaps being the star of the trio. It is definitely cinnamon, but unlike cinnamon I’ve had in the past. Especially cinnamon in beer.

Like all big beers (and this is a gigantic beer at 12%), the flavors emerge to a greater, and more delicious degree, as the beer settles from the cold of the fridge to room temperature. Again, as the beer warms, the cassia bark is what is most prominent to me as a lovely compliment to the roasted malts and vanilla.

Jason, I believe, began as a homebrewer and has since partnered with Twelve Percent Beer Project in Connecticut where all of Timber Ales are brewed. Seems like a great partnership, at least based on this beer.

Cosm of Darkness is an outstanding Imperial Stout that is a great beer to enjoy over the course of an hour or so. Based on this beer, I’ll be seeking out more beer from Timber Ales.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.5-bottle cap rating.

Beyond a Shadow of a Stout (Level 65)

We all love Stouts, and now we have a dedicated badge to celebrate your dedication to these dark, top-fermented beer in multiple variations, like Oatmeal, Milk and more! Which one will you start with? That’s 325 different beers with the style of Stout. Try 5 more for Level 66!

 

 

Beer Review: Black is Beautiful | Czig Meister Brewing

Name: Black is Beautiful
Brewing Company: Czig Meister Brewing
Location: Hackettstown, NJ
Style: Stout – Imperial / Double
ABV: 10.1%

“A delicious, potent, and flavorful stout brewed for a great, noble cause.”

Beer description:

Black is Beautiful is a beer initiative started by Weathered Souls Brewing in San Antonio to show our solidarity in the ongoing movement against the injustices people of color face daily. We will be donating proceeds to the ACLU NJ. This collaboration is a way for us to help not only our local community, but to use our voice and do a part in our ongoing goal toward liberty & justice for ALL.

Black is Beautiful -This 10% Imperial Stout is a variant brewed with chocolate & hazelnut

Earlier this year, Weathered Souls Brewing out of San Antonio launched a worldwide collaborative stout, Black is Beautiful, an imperial stout recipe to be shared with other brewers. Marcus Baskerville, founder and head brewer of Weathered Souls asked participating breweries to do the following:

  • Donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged
  • Choose their own entity to donate to local organizations that support equality and inclusion
  • Commit to the long-term work of equality

I think those are pretty fair requests. I know if I had a brewery, I’d be making my own version of Black is Beautiful.

As of this post going live, 31 breweries in NJ are participating, about one third of all the breweries in the State. Many of these breweries are doing a limited run, making the beer available only at the brewery on draft, with limited canning runs, or like Czig Meister, in crowlers. I’ve been wanting to try one from NJ since I heard about it because (1) Beer for a good cause is a great idea and (2) I love stouts. Unfortunately, not many breweries in NJ (thus far) have canned and or put their version in distribution. Fortunately, a friend from work lives near Czig Meister, so when we decided to meet up at their awesome outdoor biergarten for some socially distanced beer consumption, I knew I was going to try this beer.

Czig Meister is offering their version in crowlers to go. Photo courtesy of Czig Meister’s Facebook.

Since the beer is an Imperial Stout clocking in at 10% ABV, I can understand why this beer was only offered in 8oz pours. That 8oz pour; however, is full of flavor.

As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, this is a very dark beer. Aromas of roasted malt and some chocolate are present. I didn’t initially realize hazelnut was used in this beer until I tasted the beer then read the description so I imagine that other aroma I caught was indeed the hazelnut.

First sip test…the beer passes with flying colors. Damn is this a delicious stout! There’s a ton of sweetness, but not cloying at all, at the start of the beer. The chocolate begins to assert itself as I continue to enjoy the beer. I really like the spin that Czig Meister put on the recipe with the hazelnut and chocolate. The blend of flavors from the roasted malts and chocolate make for a sumptuous beer. The hazelnut sneaks in and cuts the bitterness at the end in a nice way and brings a great level of balance to the beer.

This is a wonderful, delicious dessert stout but I wouldn’t say it is super sweet like a big pastry stout, which I appreciate. However, the chocolate and hazelnut bring a very welcome flavor boost and sweetness into a big, burly stout. Achieving a good balance between sweetness and bitterness, especially for an Imperial Stout is mark of a good brewer and Czig Meister has achieved that balance extremely well.

The Czig Meister version of Black is Beautiful is a superb stout. What’s more, it is a beer for a really good cause. I’ve long been a fan of Czig Meister so I had pretty high expectations for this beer and it delivered. I now want to see what other breweries are doing with what is a solid, base stout.

Recommended, link to Untappd 4.25-bottle cap rating.

Untapped badges earned with this beer:

Black is Beautiful (2020)

Raise your glass and join us in supporting the many Black is Beautiful collaboration beers as we come together to recognize and bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Narwhal

Name: Barrel-Aged Narwhal
Brewing Company: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Location: Chico, CA
Style: Stout – American Imperial/Double
ABV: 11.9%

An outstanding base stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels makes for a perfect beer.

From Sierra Nevada’s page for the beer:

Deep in our barrel room, out of light’s reach, our legendary Narwhal Imperial Stout rests in bourbon barrels for nearly a year. After aging, it emerges anew: rich with notes of oak, vanilla and coconut layered onto the Stout’s malt flavors of dark chocolate and espresso. Enjoy this beast of a beer.

This is a beer I’ve been hunting down for quite some time, basically since I knew it existed, because the annual big stout from Sierra Nevada is one of my top 10 beers of all time. Sometimes, the timing of things lead to serendipitous posts like this one: 2020 is Sierra Nevada’s 40th Anniversary, Sierra Nevada recently made this beer a year-round offering, and this beer is my 50th unique Sierra Nevada beer checked into untappd, so how could I *not* review this beer?

As much as I was looking forward to this beer for years, I’ve also come to realize not all barrel-aged beers are blended/created equal. Additionally, I hadn’t had anything barrel-aged from Sierra Nevada. In short, I was worried that anticipation would lead to disappointment

It did not.

This beer pours motor-oil black, with a khaki/heavily creamed coffee head. As for the body of the beer, I’d even say there’s something about this beer that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this beer be? And the answer is none. None more black.

The aroma is largely from the bourbon barrels, but I do detect the hoppy/malty aromas I would typically associate with the non-Barrel Aged Narwhal. I thought to myself, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

That first sip is everything I hoped it would be. The barrel elements are very prominent and assertive, but far from everything this beer is. The base beer doesn’t typically have an overbearing carbonation and the carbonation is even less present on Barrel Aged Narwhal. In addition to the barrel character, the beer is largely the character I’d come to expect from the base Narwhal stout – big malt imparting sweetness, prominent hops imparting a bitter bite with subtle vanilla hints for a warm, balanced, grin-inducing finish that lingers wonderfully.

The flavor elements imparted by the Kentucky Bourbon Barrels **perfectly** enhance and complement the flavor elements of the base beer – the hops which can be relatively aggressive on a fresh in-year* bottle, are tamed and smoothed by the beer having been aged in the barrel. The hops are definitely present, but the lingering bitterness is softened. The barrel aging also complements the sweetness from the malt with hints of vanilla, oak, and maybe coconut.

* By “in-year” bottle I mean drinking a 2019 vintage of the beer in 2019, as opposed to a bottle that has sat for months to a year. I’ve had a couple bottles of Narwhal that were aged 2 and 3 years.

Something that makes this beer such a fun beer to enjoy is that the base beer Narwhal is fairly readily available for comparison. I’ve had Bourbon County Stout from AB InBev Chicago (A.K.A. Goos Island) but there’s no base beer available, same goes for So Happens Its Tuesday from the Bruery or even Parabola from Firestone Walker. In other words, you have a pretty good idea that you’re starting with in this beer.

I’ve always loved the label and font Sierra Nevada used for the beer for Narwhal, I was unhappy with the change they made in 2017 so I was pleased to see the same font treatment from the old label of the non-barrel aged version reappear on this canned version (and box of the 4-pack). I was especially pleased to see this beer go from the 22oz bomber to 16oz cans, a much easier single-sitting consumption.

Barrel-Aged Narwhal is an outstanding, world-class barrel-aged stout that I’d stand up against any other barrel-aged stout I’ve had or that is available. Given that price point, you will not find a better beer of this style (Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, or even Imperial Stout) for this price point.

For further reading, there’s a great post on Sierra Nevada’s Blog about their barrel-aging program.

Highly, highly recommended, link to 5 bottle-cap Untappd check in.

Beer Review: Great Divide’s Mexican Chocolate Yeti

Name: Mexican Chocolate Yet
Brewing Company: Great Divide Brewing Brewing
Location: Denver, CO
Style: Stout – American Imperial / Double
ABV: 9.5%

A huge stout that is a near perfect blend of sweet and spicy. An ideal dessert stout to enjoy on a cold night.

From the side of the Great Divde’s Landing page for the beer:

A very special, and very limited, entry in our venerable Yeti Series, Mexican Chocolate Yeti is a sensory delight. We’ve added a variety of spices, vanilla and coffee to Yeti Imperial Stout to create our version of a traditional champurrado drink. Spiced chocolate drinks have been part of Aztec and Mayan cuisine and culture for centuries, but they have yet to be paired with a Yeti! 9.5% ABV.

Great Divide is one of the big, reputable breweries based in Colorado. Founded in 1994, the brewery Brian Dunn started has won several awards for their beer, including their iconic Imperial Stout, Yeti. Over the years, Great Divide has brewed several variants of the Yeti, including this spicy, sweet Mexican Chocolate version.

Great Divide distributes mainly in cans, so for this specialty stout, they packaged it in a “Stovepipe” can of 19.2 oz.  I like this size and prefer it to the once ubiquitous 22oz bombers that seem to have slipped out brewer’s fancy, the 19.2oz is just enough of a beer to enjoy by oneself. As for the liquid in this particular can, I’ve had the flagship Yeti a couple of times, the first time I thought it was just OK, but when I was on a business trip in Denver, Colorado and attending a networking event at Great Divide’s Barrel Bar and I had Yeti again, I liked it much more. So, when this specific variant was announced, combined with the fact that I like the spicy/chocolatey stouts, I knew I had to get it.

After the pop of the can, I pour the beer into the glass and it is a very deep black, just like an Imperial Stout should pour. Some pleasant aromas arise from the glass, a little bit of maybe cinnamon, definitely some chocolate and vanilla. Smells to me like this will make a fine dessert beer.

I’m hit with delicious stout flavors, but then the adjuncts take over. This is a feature, not a bug. The aroma, unsurprisingly, pointed the way to a degree. I get strong flavors of chocolate, more than the vanilla nose led me to believe. Again, not a bad thing, but the vanilla is there and in just the appropriate dose for me. Vanilla can often be overused in beers, particularly big stouts, but not here.

Mexican Chocolate Yeti finishes with a little bit of coffee and some of that spice I caught on the aroma. I’m guessing some cinnamon, definitely. Not sure what else, but probably some kind of pepper. What surprises me is a few flavor bursts of something fruity. Not sure what, maybe a slight hit of cherry? Maybe citrus? Whatever that fruit is, it blends extremely well with all the other flavors. …and of course the beer tastes better as it warms in the glass, allowing the flavors to really breathe, but that should be taken for granted by now for dark beers of a high ABV.

Great Divide’s Mexican Chocolate Yeti is more than full flavored stout, it is a beer to savor and experience. If you like Stone’s Xocoveza stout as much as I do, you’ll likely enjoy this one. It also reminded me a little of a local favorite, Conclave Brewing’s Mexican Morning Stout. Believe in the Yeti, especially this incarnation

Highly recommended, link to 4.25 bottle-cap Untappd check