It all started with ROASTe's Thanksgiving Day post about coffee in your beer. I'm not a beer lover, but I like a cold one once in a while -- especially if it's not your usual off-the-bottom-shelf brand. I put coffee-infused beer on my list of "things to try someday". A few days later, one of the bloggers I read mentioned that this year, Sam Adams' Holiday Variety Pack featured a coffee-infused brew which was replacing what was, in his mind anyway, the single most ill-conceived brew experiment of all time, Cranberry Lambic. I figured it was a sign -- did I mention I'm very big on signs when they tell me to do what I want to do anyway? Well, this sign was telling me that obviously, I was fated to try Samuel Adams Black and Brew Stout -- and who am I to argue with fate? No, obviously I had to try it.
So, I picked up the phone Sunday afternoon and punched in my ex's number.
"Hey, Al," I said. "How about buying me a beer?"
Now, the ex and I have a pretty decent relationship and he's used to odd requests from me, but he's not used to me wanting a beer. Like I said -- not much of a beer drinker here. But when I offered to go halfsies with him on a Samuel Adams variety pack and let him have all but two beers, he thought that was a sweet deal. He thought it was an even sweeter deal when I also asked him to share the beers I was keeping in return for serving as a mic check for my own underdeveloped beer taste buds.
So that's how it happened that my ex-husband showed up at my door yesterday afternoon with a 12-pack assortment of Samuel Adams tucked under one arm. I was determined to do this right, so I'd already scoured my glassware cabinets to find something suitable for serving stout. Turns out I have about 12 different styles of wine glasses, dozens of coffee mugs, a couple of brandy snifters, even a ceramic beer stein -- but no decent beer glasses. I did finally come up with a fair approximation of a stout glass -- about half the size of a standard stout glass -- and a slightly smaller version with a slightly wider mouth. I'm going into detail on that for a reason. Just bear with me for a couple more paragraphs.
I dug out a bottle opener, pulled a Black and Brew Stout out of the box, snapped a picture of it and cracked it open. Before the cap even came off, I could smell the coffee -- it was absolutely the dominant note in the aroma straight from the bottle. I handed the bottle over to Al and he sniffed, crinkled his nose and, after a moment, agreed. The first pour was a lovely thing:
The color is a deep, rich, opaque black. Not dark brown. Not almost black. Black-as-midnight -- though when I held it up to the sunlight and tilted the glass just so, I could just catch a glimmer of mahogany along the bottom curve of the glass. The head is not "frothy" -- it is thick, smooth, velvety, creamy and easily a full finger thick. Aside from the color, which is a smooth, uniform tan, it reminds me a good deal of the crema on a very nice shot of espresso. And the coffee smell is still there -- but it's far more of an undertone to the tang of the stout. Al compliments me on my pour, takes the glass, sniffs, nods, and takes a sip while I pour the other half of the bottle into my own glass.
"Well, there's definitely coffee, but I'm not sure I'd have picked it out unless you told me that's what it's supposed to be" Al notes. "And it's not as bad as the Chocolate Bock."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Keeping in mind that Al's beer of choice is usually Miller High Life, I take a sip, savor a moment, and swallow. I'm not quite sure what Al's talking about -- the coffee notes are strong in this: coffee, chocolate, a hint of dark cherry. There's no hint to the aftertaste, though -- it's espresso, and pretty good espresso at that.
"It's sharp," Al adds. "Kinda thin for a stout, and a little flat. I like a stout with a little more fizz, some action in my mouth."
Meanwhile, I'm observing and getting into my own stout a bit more. The head subsides quickly, leaving behind almost no trace at all by the second sip. There's almost no lacing on the side of the glass to speak of, though when I swirl the glass, the stout coats the inside and slides down it almost like maple syrup. Interesting. I take another sip and notice that the flavor is slightly different, a little deeper with a stronger chocolate note at the front and more pronounced espresso finish.
Al takes another sip, looks over at my half-empty glass and asks, "You want to finish this and let me open a Boston Lager?"
"You don't like it?" I ask him, reaching for the glass in his hand.
"Oh, it's okay. Not something I'd buy as a full six, but it's not bad as a holiday beer."
As he rummages through the case for a Boston Lager, I take a sip from his glass and -- whoa! He and I could have been drinking two different beers. Everything about it was totally different. Far from being "a little flat," this glass of Black and Brew Stout was lively and bright, literally popping with carbonation -- something my glass had been lacking. It also still retained a hint of a head, which laced nicely along the sides of the glass. The coffee flavor was, if anything, even more evident -- as was the smooth tang of the stout. Definitely something to like in this. But wow..
"Al, try this," I say, handing my glass over to him. I figure maybe, you know, it's just me. Al sips, blinks, sips again.
"That's not the same beer I was just drinking," he declares.
Now, I suppose that a lot of things could account for that -- the fact that my glass was a second pour from the bottle is high on the list of causes, in fact. The shape of the glass is a possibility, as well. We puzzled over the little mystery for a few more minutes, then moved on to talking about politics and our kids while we finished drinking our respective beers. We sorted out the remaining bottles -- I kept both Chocolate Bocks and the other Black and Brew Stout and let him take the rest -- and he headed off home.
I can't give this a letter or number rating -- just don't know enough about beer to assign it a grade. I can say that I'm a convert -- coffee in your beer may sound off-putting, but it's actually quite tasty. I'm also convinced that a lot of things influence your perception of taste -- and even the actual taste of the beer. And I've got another Black and Brew sitting in the refrigerator for me to experiment with later. This time, I'll get the first pour into the good glass.