Stouts and Sours: Extreme Beers
|March 11, 2011||Posted by Frank under Reviews and Restaurants|
For three weeks in a row, I’ve cooked a meal for four (with generous help from Laura and her Attorney). This night, I was tired. I needed a drink and a nap. But in lieu of a nap, I just drank more beer.
I’ve never been one to drink for “effect;” I’ve always imbibed for pleasure and new experience. Even in college I’d show up to parties with a six pack of some microbrew or cider instead of drinking from the keg.
In 2005, I discovered Belgian brewing‘s tradition of invention and experimentation. When I moved to Oakland that year, there was one place to get Belgian beer: Luka’s Taproom. They had — and still have — a nice selection and good people working there. I owe most of my social life in California to Luka’s actually. For decades people have flocked to Toronado in Hayes Valley for Belgian beers and other local brews; I liked it there, but I was glad Luka’s was close to home.
Then in 2007, a new source completely changed the face of beer in the Bay Area. The Trappist was the first bar dedicated to Belgian beer, and creative beers far-flung and close to home. Now there are three Belgian bars in Oakland (Beer Revolution and Cafe Biere) and three in SF (Toronado, Monk’s Kettle, Le Trappe). Trend setters? I think so.
Using The Trappist’s tap and special bottle list I gravitated towards stouts and sours. There were several examples I’ve never had, and one or two all-time favorites. Though both pretty sweet beers, I thought the balance of rich dark flavors and light effervescent fruity flavors would be fun. Joined by Laura’s Attorney, my first friend in California Mike and our friend Suzanne, I was right!
Firestone Walker‘s Nectar Ales line “Black Xanthus” was the first stout of the night… and I think we started backwards, with dessert. Viscous isn’t usually a term of endearment, but in stout’s case it is. This was a big beer; brown-sugar sweet, lightly effervescent. After the sixth taste, I got freshly cut coconut (mentioned by one reviewer on BeerAdvocate). My first friend in California Mike said “It nails you right in the face with a powder puff of molasses.” Laura’s Attorney shared some wisdom: “It’s like an old steel fart.” None of us were sure what he was talking about, but we liked it anyway.
North Coast Old Rasputin: The first Russian Imperial Stout I ever tried was brewed by my Mother, and is still my favorite variation of the genre. This one was floral (Laura’s Attorney said “like sipping rose petals”) and mineral, with a very creamy head. Honestly while drinking the Black Xantus and smelling the Old Rasputin, this smelled like dish soap – that’s how powerful the Black Xantus was. Laura’s Attorney liked everything that’s not like a dark beer about this beer: it’s sharper, lighter, more drinkable. I agreed. I did like the creamy head and the beginning weight of it; but it dissipated into something far more drinkable than the classic stout.
As a palate cleanser, Laura’s Attorney ordered a Rodenbach Grand Cru from the tap, a legendary Flemish sour. Thank goodness; after the Black Xantus and Old Rasputin I needed a respite from the molasses and coffee notes. A very drinkable yet savorable example of a sour, with classic notes of balsamic vinegar or grape must (Laura’s Attorney says spiderwebs, but that’s a whole other topic), and powerful fruit esters. I didn’t get a picture of it, that’s how delicious it was. If you’ve never had a Flemish sour ale, there are two everyone should try: this, and Duchess de Bourgogne.
Emilesse Brouwereij Espresso Stout was a classic example of an espresso stout. Light in body, nice lacing on the slight head, mineral and slightly bitter on the aftertaste, and all espresso and cocoa. Honestly it wasn’t very impressive to me. It was just there, simple; and compared to the other stouts on the table it sat in the background.
Last on the list is DeMolen Rasputin, or “Disputin,” so named because they were sued by North Coast for originally calling their brew “Rasputin.” This was another powerful beer, more like a cross between a stout, sour and a barleywine. It poured with no head, completely flat (hence the barleywine). With beers this strong they sometimes have overpowering smells and flavors of alcohol; this one made good use of its strength, tasting even bourbon-like. Raisin, clove, brown sugar, cocoa and espresso. We started with dessert, and we ended with dessert.
As much as I love these kinds of stouts, I think I had my quota for the quarter – big beers that stand alone, and together make for a very rich night of drinking! Be sure to drink plenty of water with these guys, I’m glad we did.