Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Mondial Beer Review #3: Stouts & Porters

Like many people, I used to think Guinness was what stouts were all about; it being allegedly quintessential, definitive, representative.  Then I learned otherwise and now I love stout, so I tasted 13 at this past weekend's event and have broken down the review categories into: 1) Standard Stouts and Porters; 2) Oatmeal Stouts; 3) Milk/Sweet Stouts; and 4) Imperial Stouts.  Unfortunately, Arcadia Brewing's highly regarded, whiskey-aged Shipwreck Porter was out by day 2 (as was New Holland's Oaked Russian Imperial Stout and Cervejaria Bodebrown's Imperial Stout both by day 4 of 5)!  That was just unfair, but regardless, here we go with what remained!

Standard Stouts and Porters

Personal Best of the Fest: Founders Porter (6.5% ABV) in the robust porter tradition (a preferred style) doesn't disappoint pouring midnight black with a creamy beige head of solid retention and lacing.  Sweet caramel and chocolate malts greet the nose and lure a taste!  On the flavour front, however, it is much drier, beginning with a faint caramel sweetness and drying out like fine coffee with an espresso-like lingering finish.  Full bodied and creamy, this is one delicious beer!  Grade: A

Birrificio Ticinese's Two Penny Porter (8.2% ABV), which is also a robust porter, came in second here.  It pours a near black, though with a poor head, yet I think I had a server who didn't get beer and poured it smooth down the side of the glass, so I will refrain from letting the head determine my assessment.  It smelled of semi-sweet baking chocolate with faint toasted, smoky notes behind and just a touch of dark bread and brown sugar.  With a slightly peaty taste (which was nice) and a strongly drying/lasting finish, I found it to be a touch over-dry, almost bitter (though far from astringent).  It was chewy and thick with only light carbonation, yet was a touch warming.  Excellent nose, and some very good qualities, but not out of this world good.  Grade: B+

In third place, I'd rank Cervejaria Colorado's Colorado Demoiselle (6% ABV).  This is another in the robust porter style, but which allegedly infuses its flavour with coffee, though I but vaguely sensed that so it seems slight.  That said, my bottle may have been open a while and the nose may have dissipated (and may also be where the coffee is most prevalent).  However, to me it smelled sweet and fruity, with just a hint of coffee - as if perhaps some sweet, frozen cappucino with added berries or something.  It was beautifully dark brown with a gorgeous mocha head and solid retention and lace.  Flavourwise, it was similarly (if less) sweet than to/on the nose, but the flavour seemed muted and mild, much less bold tasting than the others rated herein, with just a faint coffee bitterness in the finish that didn't even dry out the sweetness.  With a lighter body than desired and fairly heavy carbonation, this wasn't ideal to me - but I'd like to try a fresher bottle as I do so love coffee infused stouts and porters and perhaps got a long-sitting open bottle for my sample?  Grade: B- subject to change someday!

Coming in last in the category is Brasserie Artisinale de Puisaye's Puisaye la Grenouillette Stout (4% ABV) which poured a deep, dark brown, with a decent, frothy beige head with good retention and a moderate amount of lacing.  It smelled yeasty and bready, with notes of molasses and plums.  Flavourwise, it also tasted of dark bread with a dry finish, but in that dry Irish, not hoppy sort of way that I am uncertain how to describe.  It was a touch too sparkly/carbonated and too light-bodied for this taste/style if you ask me, but dry Irish stouts aren't my favourite variety to begin with.  It was decent and drinkable, but not very 'stout-like' in my opinion.  Grade: B-

Oatmeal Stouts

I do so adore the 'original' modern Oatmeal Stout from Samuel Smith, but until this event had never really been impressed with others I have tried.  Don't get me wrong: Sam Smith's still takes the cake, but there are some other good ones, for example both of those I just tried:

Personal Best of the Fest: Birrificio Grado Plato's Chocarrubica (7% ABV) pours a jet black with a creamy, thick, beige head of noteworthy retention and excellent glass-trailing lace.  It smells of sweet coffee and dark chocolate - I was unable to discern the difference between the carob that infuses this beer from the chocolate on the nose.  On the palate, however, it tasted more like fruity chocolate in that drying, unsweetened carob manner with a hint of raisins and some grainy, toasted oats hints though not prevalent.  Full-bodied, and chewy, this was a very pleasant beer to drink!  Grade: A-/A

At just a shade behind comes Elysian Brewing's Dragonstooth Stout (6.2% ABV) which - as I tasted my friend's on my second visit after having tried my own on the first day - verified how different beers can taste to you depending upon other consumption.  At first I sort of liked it and the second time I loved it, so I will temper my review to the mid-point.  Black as midnight, this beer offers a thin, but appealing mocha head that diminishes quickly but never entirely.  Lacing is negligible - or quick lasting at best - but present.  On the nose, it is a bit piney for the style, but toasted oats and whispy cereal/grainy notes are certainly enticing at the same time.  On the first taste, I found this beer to taste a bit piney and drying for the style, yet on my second try I was more able to discern the French toast/mocha sweetness that comes first and isn't completely dried out by the American-hoppiness of this interpretation of the oatmeal stout style.  On the tongue, it was creamy, though a bit light bodied (somewhat medium) than imagined with moderate carbonation.  Grade: A-

Milk/Sweet Stouts

Personal Best of the Fest: Malédiction (5% ABV) from Le Saint-Bock Brasserie Artisinale was delicious and sublime!  It poured deep, dark black with an excellent creamy mocha head with fair retention and creamy lacing.  Aromas were primarily of sweet milk chocolate and caramel malt, while it tasted similarly with sweet chocolate dominating upfront before a slight coffee bitterness finishes it off.  There is just enough drying in the finish to keep this from being cloyingly sweet - that is, it is not quite like a cloying dessert stout, but almost (and still a dessert beer) and it is damn good!  Medium bodied and carbonated, though creamy to the tongue.  Just delicious!  Grade: A/A+

Microbrasserie Charlevoix's La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout (9%) was also remarkably pleasant and fell in just behind the 'winner,' bringing the best of the imperial style to the dessert tastes of the milk stout.  Though pouring a deep, dark brown, I wondered if it could or should have been black, but it still offered a gorgeous, mountainous, frothy, mocha head with superb retention and thick, frothy lacing.  Milk chocolate is the strongest note on the nose, but it is complemented by caramel and coffee.  Tastewise, it is drier and (slightly) less dessert-like than Malédiction, and brings more of the imperial stout finish.  It begins with chocolate sweetness, before a touch of semi-sweet cherry notes, and finishes with a coffee lingering dryness supplemented by just enough drying piney hops.  With a medium-to-full body and light-to-medium carbonation, this is a fine creamy treat on the tongue!  Grade: A

Imperial Stouts

If you know me, you know I have a weakness for a good imperial stout and, though I tasted four good ones (and one not so good), a few I had hoped to taste were sold out and none blew me away as Lava, St. Ambroise, and Péché Mortel have in the past.  Yet, I'd gladly drink them over many other beers, so don't get too discouraged!  The Charlevoix La Vache Folle Imperial Milk Stout would win the category had I not ranked it as a Milk/Sweet Stout, since it is technically both and exposes the arbitrariness not just of my own categorizations, but of style categorizations entirely!

Anyway, as the categories stand, for my Personal Best of the Fest I select Bierland Imperial Stout (7%) from Brazil's Cervejaria Bierland which takes the nod despite its relatively low ABV (for the style - another Brazilian imperial stout, Bodebrown's, though sold out before I got there and highly rated comes in at a whopping 14.5%!)  Bierland's offering pours a nearly midnight black with a thick creamy mocha head, though its retention and lacing are just fair.  The aroma is originally simply mocha, but upon closer inspection it is chocolate up front and fresh-brewing coffee in the finish.  At first, it struck me as too sweet with a sweet mocha primacy without any coffee bitterness, but the complexity is noteworthy as, like with the nose, it evolves through sips and later tastes dry further with deeper coffee notes and a touch of licorice.  Despite being a bit lighter bodied than many imperials and despite a fair carbonation, it remains creamy and smooth.  There are some unique style choices here and at times I wondered if it all worked, but I enjoyed it and the nose and flavour offered noteworthy complexity such that it deserves a Grade: A-

Not far behind is Arcadia's Imperial Stout (9.5% ABV) which pours a jet black with a frothy, rocky tan head of fair retention and lacing.  Cocoa and molasses/grainy malt notes are most present on the nose, with a hint of smoke.  True to the American style, it is quite well-hopped, but this appears more in the flavour that is quite drying in a smoky sort of bitterness.  Medium-full bodied and chewy as desired, it felt great to the tongue.  As it is bottle-conditioned and meant for aging, I would like to taste it after some mellowing time, but for a 'green' tasting, it is still quite pleasant.  (Early) Grade: A-

Lagunitas makes its appearance on all three review posts so far (as has Charlevoix) with its Bourbon-aged (for one year) Cappuccino Stout (Fest said 7.9% ABV, their website says 9.2% and beeradvocate says 8.25% so your guess is as good as mine and it may vary by year).  Great in black colour with the requisite foamy tan head and solid retention as is characteristic of the style.  The nose is fairly sweet as the cappuccino infusion is obvious, but so too is the booziness and a piney-citrusy hoppiness, though sweet malts remains the order of the day with a boozy brown sugar breadiness lingering.  There are hints of the chocolate, cappuccino, coffee, and even some hoppy esters on the palate, but predominantly it is the booze and bourbon that comes out on the tongue.  It doesn't taste bad, but is overwhelming in a unique way somewhat different from your standard imperial.  Full bodied and nicely creamy/chewy, though you can't hide this warmth and it strikes me that a year in bourbon barrels may be a bit too long (and that the ABV is under dispute since it tastes like liquor).  Grade: B/B+

French brewer La Brasserie de Fleurac's Grains de Folie Impérial Stout au Café (9% ABV) has a fine, foamy, porous beige head atop a black body, while the head has fair retention but negligible lacing.  Sweet mocha aromas predominate amidst some brown sugary maltiness.  Unlike the sweeter aroma, the coffee flavour is more drying in the mouth leading to a greater balance than anticipated.  Medium in body with virtually no carbonation, it would be finely creamy to the mouth were it not for the present warmth.  Good, and enjoyable, but not a must find.  Grade: B/B+

Last, but not least, is Italian brewery, Birrificio Civale's offering, Imperiosa (10% ABV) which looks the part with an opaque black body, and a fine beige head of solid retention (though with no lacing at all).  It smells primarily of sweet chocolate and tastes similar with sugary sweet malts and chocolate notes present, but with no balance and without the complexity of flavour to taste like dessert.  Though creamy, it remains quite thin bodied and is fairly boozy.  Better than a Guinness, but one of the least impressive beers I have had in what is probably my favourite style.  Grade: C+

Well, that's all for now!  With a hectic weekend it might be a handful of days before I return for the last 3 posts in this series, which (as a reminder) will cover:

1) Wheat beers and Lagers
2) Unique Oddities
3) A final recap and some concluding thoughts

I feel like Mondial is still going on, btw, and rethink my tastings in each write-up from my notes as if tasting them again!  I hope you are (back) there with me in your readings!  Let me know in the comments what you think/have thought of these beers if you have had them!  Cheers!

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