I’m not usually a dark beer drinker – I like my beer hoppy – but on The Longest Night for the winter solstice, well, you have to put old feelings aside and try something new.
Rising Storm is a fantastic new brewery just off Exit 9 on Route 390 in Avon, NY. It’s a quick half hour ride from downtown Rochester, and only a few minutes from Mortalis, another new local place that’s quickly developing a rabid following.
The brainchild of Bill Blake and Jeff Reidl, fraternity brothers from our college days at Geneseo (although I’ve got a good eight or so years on them), Rising Storm simply brews good beer. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; no crazy flavors, no gimmicks. Just a good variety of styles done right. (Their first NEIPA, called The What, earned my first 5 on Untappd.)
The rest of the Barley Prose team challenged me to blog a dark beer, though, so I figured this was the way to go. Nocturnal Storm is a vanilla porter that tastes pretty much exactly what I expected a vanilla porter to taste like: a little tinge of vanilla and coffee, but very smooth and very drinkable. I’ve downed an entire crowler this evening and I’ve enjoyed every sip. It’s only 5.8% ABV, so it’s not overwhelming either, but has enough kick to count.
Bill and Jeff are adding live music in the next couple of weeks, and they’ve worked hard to develop a strong local following. Keep an eye on this little place in Livingston County that’s going to make some noise in 2019. (Tell Sully or Doupe at the bar that Chris sent you.)
Why shouldn’t the Winter Solstice be a beer holiday for drinking DARK beers?
The winter solstice. Not typically a beer holiday, if any day can truly be said to NOT be a beer holiday. The darkest day of the year. If we’re going to make it a holiday, we shall make it a holiday where you drink the darkest beer you can find. The most common, at least in America, way to measure beer color is SRM. Standard Reference Method is officially calculated by shining light through beer, though most breweries are using approximations based on ingredients. It’s maybe not the best way to measure color or really describe a beer, but it’s a fine measure to talk about the DARKEST BEER.
Official style guides, even for the darkest stouts and porters, don’t go beyond about 39-40, but if you add more color-adding malts, you’ll raise the SRM. Officially there’s a top bounds–once light stops penetrating, you can’t measure it anymore. That doesn’t stop breweries from listing it though.
Uinta used to make a big black ale called Labyrinth, that was listed at 184 SRM. The Dutch brewery De Molen make a few really dark imperial stouts, Hel & Verdoemenis, and Hemel & Aarde that come in at ~150 and ~174 respectively. These beers translate to Hell and Damnation, and Heaven and Earth–great names. The bottles say ‘Enjoy within 25 years’ which is longer than most US breweries have even existed. I’d love to try them one day. I did spent two and a half days in Amsterdam back in 2012, but De Molen wasn’t one of the places I hit.
Carton Brewing in New Jersey seems to aim for 42 as the SRM on their dark beers. A nice Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy nod is always appreciated. Perhaps the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything is ‘How many beers are you going to have tonight?”
De Molen went all hellfire and damnation with their naming schema, and certainly extremely dark beers lend themselves to some fun and creative names. I appreciate a good hop pun as much as the next guy, but you can’t beat the imagery some of these dark beer names describe.
Brooklyn Brewery absolutely doesn’t make a beer called Black Ops, which is definitely not a bourbon barrel aged stout. There is no intel on this, especially not SRM, as it doesn’t officially exist. Shh. This is actually one I’ve had before, and definitely enjoyed immensely. It’s in a bomber, and is somewhat expensive, but I can’t help but notice that a bomber seems to be the perfect size for a christmas stocking. Someone forward this to my wife Santa Claus.
Gun Hill Brewery in the Bronx makes a beer with the name, Void of Light, which is practically an SRM measurement right there in the name.
Kane Brewery in New Jersey has a seasonal release, with many variants, called A Night To End All Dawns. This might be my favorite beer name ever and my only regret is this is extremely hard to get. I’ve had a few of them on tap at events around this time of year, and was really digging a cocoa variant I had a few years ago. To double down on the awesome name, they make a small beer from the second runnings of ANTEAD called Civil Twilight. You can think of second runnings much like running a second cup of coffee through the coffee grinds, if you used an extreme amount of coffee grinds for the first cup. Civil Twilight comes in at a respectable 37 SRM, which certainly suggests the original is much, much darker.
There’s Great Lakes Blackout Stout.
“Turn off the lights and turn on the flavor, because Blackout Stout is back and as dark as ever”
Inspired by the big 2003 blackout in the Northeast, this is a really solid stout year after year. Nothing fancy, just rich dark and roasty malts. I just purchased one of these myself, though I didn’t experience much of that blackout myself. Oddly enough, I was in Amish Country in Pennsylvania, a place not particularly known for electricity. It wasn’t until we started driving home that night that we crossed into cell range and got all the messages from family telling us to extend our vacation, which we did. We stayed in a hotel in Allentown, PA just outside the edge of the blackout, played mini golf, and went to bed with the air conditioning blasting.
Those Dutch beers are probably the darkest beers in the world, but to the human eye there’s probably not a perceivable difference between any of these black as night beers we so enjoy this time of year. It’s the darkest day of the year, crack open a beer to match.
A review of the decidedly not New England IPA, Tongue-Tied Troll
So, Angry Erik. Cool brewery name for sure. Sounds like a Viking.
Tongue-Tied Troll is the name of the DIPA. October and all, you know that I double-checked this wasn’t a pumpkin beer. It’s not. Comes in at a solid 8.1%, and you really can taste that burn.
Ordered this with my dinner one night, sight unseen which I never do but was with some non-beer friends and you know how it goes. Them plebes were drinking Merlot of all things. This came out not-hazy. It wasn’t clear at least, but I already had my hackles up.
The smell, it’s got aroma but like, almost no fruit. Maybe a whiff of something blackberry like, but it’s sickly sweet. Malt, honey, etc. Old-School I guess, lots of that dank 2000s hop bomb stuff.
Boom, that taste. Not cool, it really smacks you in the face with dank. I’m not trying to get high here man! I want a beer not a joint. This guy is hoppy and bitter, but you’ve got a ton of that bready malt sweetness and alcohol burn to it too! Even a fruit fly couldn’t leave the dang thing alone. The hops presented grapefruit and orange citrus type flavors, but in a muted balanced way and not in the juice bomb way that would elevate this thing to next level.
The mouthfeel was solid though. Full, slick and made me want to take another sip, which I am always wont to do.
Verdict: NEEDS MORE HAZE. Will do in a pinch, especially at 8.1%, but have to give this a C-. Don’t wait in line for this one.
Tasting and sharing JW Lees Harvest 2001, weed beer, German sessions and more
Many people save beer. Some people intentionally age things, with various degrees of care, to see how they’ll taste. Age is a factor on many beers, and while it’s generally a negative, some beers exhibit some interesting and tasty characteristics as they get old. It’s especially interesting to see how beers taste fresh versus aged, especially yearly releases that you can compare glass to glass at the same time. Doing a vertical tasting of vintages is a great experience.
I sometimes will save a bottle or two intentionally, but most of the time it’s because I bought something that can keep, and always seem to have beer on hand that needs to be tasted fresh. I’ve got bottles in my basement that I’ve told myself “I’ll drink that this weekend” for years. The higher ABV of beers like this play in as well, as you’re not often to going to open a 22oz bomber of 12% beer to drink alone after dinner.
So you take advantage of the opportunity to open these bottles when you’re away for the weekend with a few friends. We all have young kids, so we kept it reasonable, choosing to try things rather than burn through imperial stout after imperial stout.
Plan Bee Kevbo
Farmhouse Ale with NY hops. This was really good. It was too hoppy for everyone else but I happily finished it off. Plan Bee makes amazing and beautiful beers and I need to get up to the Hudson Valley and visit them. Soon.
Smuttynose Rocky Road
Pastry stout. It was fine, enjoyable. Nothing particularly stood out. Faint whisps of marshmallow on the nose are fun though.
Dr. Fritz Briem Piwo Grodziski Grätzer Ale
Another one that didn’t quite hit the mark with everyone else, that I adored. It’s a sour smoked wheat ale. At 4% it’s a session ale and I really wish I had a dozen more.
Victory White Monkey
A Chardonnay barrel version of their Golden Monkey Belgian Tripel. I think I liked this one better, the flavors were calmer and more grapey.
New Belgium The Hemperor HPA
This was not good. I guess if you’re really into weed, and really enjoy that dank herbal aroma and taste, you might enjoy this, but not us. No. This is what I imagine bong water would taste like. It was an interesting try, and I’m definitely still interested in beers like this given the familiar relationship between hops and weed, in that they both belong to the Cannabinaceae family, but this beer was not drinkable.
Innis & Gunn Blood Red Sky
I don’t love regular Innis & Gunn, but this version with rum barrels and a Scottish red? Delicious. Lots of ripe red fruit and caramel sweetness. Candy apple almost, but less saccharine. Fun, though everyone else disagreed, so I took the last bottle home for myself.
JW Lees and Co Harvest Ale (2001)
Have you ever had a 17 year old beer? Try it. This was neat. Raisin syrup was my first thought, but that’s an understatement for the depth of flavors present in this beer. I don’t really drink sherry, but this was probably closer to a sherry than what you’d typically think of as beer. What a fun experience. I just randomly bought this bottle recently too, from a random beverage place. I also picked up a 2009, so stay tuned.
All in all, a fun weekend. I’ve got more though! When are we doing this again?