I hear the train a comin’…

IMG_0880Folks, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting a local homebrewer yesterday to taste his award-winning beer, the absolutely delicious Man in Black Stout. And I tell you, I learned a TON. Virgil Russell, the chef of this special concocotion, gave me a crash course in homebrewing and the development of his recipe. The kind and humble Virgil has been brewing, distilling, and wine-making for years, starting first in college, “I had a still in college!” Then it was on to Libya (yes, Libya!), where he experimented with Italian grapes for winemaking, all the while continuing to produce brews and spirits. But it was his 2 week intensive course in brewing at UC Davis that changed his vision and technique.

His inspiration for this brew? A porter by a fellow brewer called “Juan Strong Porter” that contained coffee. What a great name. But Virgil wanted to create a darker, more intense beer with chocolatey, coffee overtones using only malts.  And so was born the Man in Black Stout.  Why the name? An homage to Johnny Cash AND he does his brewing with partner Fred Lockett in Folsom. Awesome. “We brew in a horse barn.”  The water out there is pristine, with perfect pH, and makes a far cleaner beer than anything possible with New Orleans Municipal water. And Virgil, like Cash doesn’t try to fit into a mold or please others: “I brew what I want.” Well Virgil, keep doing what you’re doing because your stout rocks. Seriously, this beer should be out there.

IMG_0879BEER #19

Virgil Russell’s Man in Black Stout: ABV: 8.2% This serious, yet lush beer comes out of the tap black as Johnny Cash’s suit with a gorgeous dark tan head that doesn’t quit. My first whiff, and I get graham crackers and spiced cookies.  As we sit and chat, the beer has a chance to warm a little, and the nose starts developing. A rich and intense coffee note emerges, like freshly ground beans (think of your favorite fresh from the machine), directly followed by Tahitian vanilla, and a dark, luscious chocolate aroma. Imagine yourself standing in a pastry chef’s kitchen.  Then imagine sticking your nose into a big bowl as she pours a decadent liquid chocolate into a cake pan.  That’s the smell, I kid you not. This is the wonderful aspect of this brew. The smells are real, distinctly clean, and beautifully intense.  It’s an experience that’s harder to achieve with mass-produced beers.

IMG_0883The palate is as rich as I expected.  All of those aromas follow through and fill the senses.  There is a bit of a burnt flavor and bitterness to the finish, but it is not overwhelming, and I like it.  As I have said, that bitterness is CRUCIAL when you have this type of intensity on the palate.  It is just enough to clean the tongue, but not completely erase the lingering notes of coffee and chocolate.

Well done, Virgil. Well done.

BEER #18

McAuslan St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout: ABV: 5% I have been looking forward to trying this one, because I enjoy oatmeal stouts, and I had heard about this one and explored their website as well. My hands aren’t shaking or anything, but I am reasonably excited.  The color looks good, nice and rich, not opaque but pretty damn dark. And it coats the glass when you swirl it.

I am a little surprised here, but I am getting definite dark fruit aromas. Not entirely unlike the milk stout I tried a few days ago, but more integrated and not quite as pungent. Think black currant preserves on toast. Concentrated and jammy, with toasty undertones but not jumping out of the glass.

Picture 22This follows through on the palate, but the flavors turn darker to roasted nuts and that perceived sweetness starts to fade into a slightly bitter finish. No wait, its a burnt finish. Whoa, it intensifies. Ok, let me say this….semi-burnt taste is ok. Like when you kinda burn your hotdog or bbq chicken on the grill. It adds a certain je ne sais qua.  But this is like burnt toast…when you have to either scrape it off cause you’re too poor to let it go to waste, or you chuck it and curse your cheap toaster. We’ve all been there. Point being, too much burnt.

The other aspect worth noting is a milky/lactic thing. You know how after you eat a bowl of cereal or drink a glass of milk, you have that certain taste in your mouth? From the milk hanging out on your tongue?  There’s a bit of that in there.  I’m serious.

Ok, so conclusion? This is a pretty good beer. On an effort scale, I would give it a 5, meaning it was not DIFFICULT to drink, but I did get hung up on the milk and burnt thing a little.  By way of comparison that Lacto Milk Stout was a 9 on the effort scale. Sheesh.

BEER #17

Thirsty Dog Brewing Old Leghumper Robust Porter: ABV: 6.70% Yet another thing I love about the craft brewing world is the names. So much ingenuity. I am constantly smiling at the range  of monikers these guys come up with. It’s entertaining as hell.

Picture 23Hailing from the state of the Buckeyes, Lebron James, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this beer was a pleasant, easy finish to my day of density. Sweet malty aromas and dark honey notes predominate. And definite,yet balanced notes of caramel and toffee. Not overwhelming. Kind of like when you hold a piece of Werther’s Orginal caramel or toffee in the corner of your mouth and it gives a subtle flavor to whatever you are drinking. Yeah, like that.

Then arises a nutty presence, but more like fresh nuts or those barely toasted, rather than the intense roastiness of stouts. Interestingly, there are traces of meat, but they are faint. Then the nose changes again, and reveals an earthiness…potting soil and earthy smelling flowers, like geraniums and marigolds. Crazy huh? But there it is. I couldn’t make that one up if I tried.  This like many beers is really interesting, but you gotta stick with it over time.  If you drink it cold, you miss all of those secondary notes. But hey, I understand. Sometimes you just want a drink and NOT to analyze it.

So conclusions: Easy, smooth entry. Easy, smooth finish. No rough edges. I seem to have drawn this conclusion with several of the porters I have reviewed so far. Porters are for drinking, Stouts are for sipping. Except Guinness. I can chug that beer like nobody’s business.  And I know those Baltic Porters I will be trying will be a different story. So, no proclamation yet.

Until next time, CHEERS!


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