This is some dark beer. Not quite Maggie Moo dark, but a little darker than I expected, especially comparing it to Night Work (made with the same wort to begin with). It looks black. Held to the light… it still mostly looks black, but I guess there is some brown and maybe even tan around the edges. The head is not quite as dark. It is tan, but again, not as dark as my cocoa cream stout from earlier this year. It is also not as robust. The head died down quick, but this is over 10% ABV and recently bottled, so it does not surprise me.
That alcohol shows up early in the aroma, too. There is some dark, bitter chocolate on the nose, but also a bit more solvent-y alcohol than I’d like. I remember this from Old SMaSHy (2013)’s younger days and it cleaned up over time. I think this character is (slightly) more at home in this Abbey style beer than in that one, though.
And taking a sip, the alcohol is much better hidden. There is no solvent on the palate. Okay, maybe a little in the finish, but there is so much else going on, it fits in well. The bitter chocolate comes out first and fits wonderfully with the thick, velvety texture of this beer. Despite the chocolate being bitter, there is some sweetness here, but it comes through as more fruity. I get all kinds of dark fruit. There is prune, but there is also sweeter fruit. Plums, dark grapes, currants, maybe even some apricot in the finish. The bitterness, and it is all from roasted malts as the hopping is minimal, comes through at the finish a cuts all that fruit off early, though.
I opened this beer already at room temperature and I think that is how it is best, but I’m curious how much of this fruit would come through if it were colder. I think it would be very muted and only the roasty bitterness and some sweetness would come out.
It is hard to tell what comes from the malt and what comes from the fermentation. I can tell, though that I’m a big fan of this yeast. This is the Westmalle strain and it is my first time using it. I tried Chimay’s strain for Triple Valor because it is said to be more reliable, but now I am regretting that. That beer finished much drier but took forever to carbonate and the fermentation is a bit more one dimensional. There is a ton of delicious cherry flavor. That is it, though. This beer has much more depth. And while the alcohol comes out strong on the nose of this beer, the higher ABV (10.4% vs. 9.4%, I believe) is better hidden on the palate.
I have to say, I’m extremely happy with this beer. And I was nervous. The original gravity was higher than I planned, then the final gravity was much higher than I planned and I thought that the yeast had crapped out. When I opened this bottle and found it carbonated, I was ecstatic but still kind of expected a sweet, sticky mess. The depth here is surprising and gratifying. This is a very simple recipe but it comes together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. This batch ended up smaller than I the standard five gallons, but in my nervousness, I was almost relieved. I’m already grieving for the loss of volume though. I guess I need to make the thirty or so bottles I have count and try to fit a re-brew in sooner than planned. Luckily, this is definitely not a session beer. It is a sipping, savoring, maybe-have-two-if-you-have-no-plans kind of beer and in that way, it works perfectly.