Note: 2/3rds of this post comes courtesy of a trade with Jay at Hedonist Beer Jive.
When I get together with my friends DW and Batch, we like nothing more than to set up a blind taste test amongst some hard-hittin’ beers. There’s no more accurate way to judge, and enjoy, a great beer than with no preconceived notions. No inner monologue dancing around your head saying stuff like, “I think I kinda hate this beer, but it’s #13 on the Beer Advocate Top 100 so maybe I actually do like it…?????”
For this blind, I’m sure some beer geeks are going to get all up in arms that we pitted an American double stout vs. an American porter vs. a Russian imperial stout. Blasphemy they’ll say! He disrespected beer! They might even start a nerdy discussion about it on the sad BA Forums. But I’ll argue that it was an apropos matchup. These styles are virtually the same and in this case, all three beers had near identical ABVs and, more importantly, strongly relied on coffee for their flavor profiles.*
The contenders were the currently #13 beer in the world AleSmith’s Speedway Stout, the #73 beer in the world Deschutes Black Butte XXI, and, just to throw a would-be tomato can into the mix, Pozharnik from Pennichuck Brewing from out in New Hampshire.
We were anxious to throw these down, but we faced one crucial problem: how to set up a blind tasting when we were the only three people around. Usually there’s a wife or a girlfriend, a macro-drinking friend, a teetotaling toddler, you can enlist to set up the glasses for tastings but in this case all those kinds of people were shunning us. Three people born in the 1970s, well-educated, and we couldn’t possibly figure out how to set up a blind to drink ourselves. Perhaps we were a little toasted too. And I was most anxious to get on with this tasting as I was getting a firm case of drinking blue balls.
Finally, DW decided he could pull out nine total glasses, label three of them with a 1 on the bottom, three with a 2, and three with a 3, pour the same beer in the same numbered glass, then have Batch mix the glasses up, then have me distribute. It worked. May drinking beer never be so hard again.
On with the tasting notes:
Beer #1: I found this one strongly smelling of soy sauce while all three of us detected a spicy chili pepper scent on the nose, recalling Dogfish Head Theobroma a bit I thought, oddly enough. I found this one thin in the mouth, and bordering on unpleasant. I didn’t even want to finish my blind taster glass.
Beer #2: This was sweeter than #1 and quite flavorful. I found it, likewise, to be a little thin on the mouth, but it was a very solid effort I enjoyed.
Beer #3: By far the best of the three, all three of us blind tasters thought it easily won the troika matchup. Rich in coffee taste and with a silky mouthfeel, toasty, roasty, and chocolaty, I greedily slurped this one up.
And the reveal:
Beer #1: Black Butte XXI
Beer #2: Pozharnik
Beer #3: Speedway Stout**
We were all floored how resoundingly the beautifully wax-dipped Black Butte XXI got its ass kicked. After the reveal, we still struggled to enjoy it and nearly considered passing the remaining 3/4th of the bottle to a bum outside. (Respect that BA!) XXI would be the only of the three bottles we didn’t enjoyably finish. But, to be fair, it explicitly says on the Black Butte XXI bottle that the beer is best after 10/17/2010, but with such a lofty numerical standing and such rave reviews pretty much to a man at this very second in time, I would have hoped for better. Nevertheless, I would really like to try another bottle of it exactly 369 days from now and I’ll give it a marginal benefit of the doubt til then.
The little-discussed Pozharnik was also quite a surprise, in the more pleasant surprise direction, and held up quite well in matching the wax-dipped XXI with a plastic plungered bottle. The victorious Speedway Stout opted for the silver foil-wrapped top, completing the trifecta in what may not have been our greatest blind tasting ever, but was surely our greatest fancily-capped bottle tasting ever.
Black Butte XXI: B-
Speedway Stout: A
Speedway Stout: “A HUGE Imperial Stout that weighs in at an impressive 12% ABV! As if that’s not enough, we added pounds of coffee for a little extra kick.”
Black Butte XXI: “Building on the existing chocolate notes already present in Black Butte Porter, brewers added Theo’s Chocolate cocoa nibs from Seattle, 1000 pounds of Bellatazza’s locally roasted Ethopian and Sumatran coffee, and then aged a portion of it in Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey barrels.”
Pozharnik: “The 2007 Pozharnik is an intensely flavored Russian Imperial Stout infused with espresso that compliments its rich chocolate & roasted malt character. Pozharnik is guaranteed to warm a winter chill with its 10% ABV and dark fruit (raisin & plum) & vanilla undertones. Notes of whiskey aromatics are brought on by the aging process in a “single barrel” whiskey cask.”
**Interestingly enough, the only of the three to NOT be barrel-aged. Though, I’d love to try the barrel-aged version of this one if any one wants to hook a brotha up.