Ever since developing a taste for imperial stouts back in 2008 I’ve made sure to buy at least one four-pack of Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout every year. Though for some reason I’ve only aged bottles for long enough to compare one year’s release to its immediate predecessor. So when my older brother told me that he recently organized his beer cellar and found Winter 2011-12 and 2012-13 bottles of Black Chocolate Stout I knew it was time or a vertical tasting spanning four vintages of this sought after beer.
Instead of pouring out all four vintages at once my brother and I decided to pour each vintage on it’s own, jot down our initial impressions, and then begin comparing them against each other as they got closer to room temperature. At 10% abv all four beers benefitted from warming up and the differences amongst them became more apparent as we sipped on.
Before moving on to my tasting notes I should note that the Winter 2011-12 and 2012-13 vintages were aged in my older brother’s basement cellar in NJ and the Winter 2013-14 and 2014-15 were aged in my New York City apartment.
Winter 2014-15: As per style the beer poured an opaque black with a ring of light brown head around edges like a cup of black coffee. In the aroma this vintage was textbook Russian Imperial Stout with lots of dark chocolate, dark fruit, hints of roasted malt, and yeast ester astringency. Before I discuss the taste of this vintage I should note that one of the reasons that craft beer enthusiasts age this beer is because of its roasty astringency and alcohol heat. So at first like in the aroma the astringency was more apparent and I picked up some booze. Dark chocolate flavor was the most dominant flavor, but it was quickly followed by dark fruit, and a roasty / alcohol astringent bite. Then as it warmed up the astringency became less of a nuisance to my drinking experience and allowed me to admire the beer’s complexity when compared to other vintages with notes of espresso coffee and roasted malt coming to the forefront.
Winter 2013-14: In terms of appearance all the vintages looks pretty much the same, though this one poured with a touch more head, but that may be attributable to my pour. In the aroma their was less booze and complex notes of fig, date, chocolate, and dry cocoa. As I sipped on I attributed the richer dark fruit notes to the astringency’s fading. In addition, the dark chocolate flavor was stronger and reminded me of a dark chocolate bar flavor with a cherry/raisin finish. So although there was still some dry astringency left on my palate, the beer’s balance was most enjoyable/noticeable in this vintage.
Winter 2012-13: Over time one of the signs of a beer’s oxidation that I’ve seen is bubbles on the bottom of the cap. Surprisingly while their were oxidation notes in both the aroma and flavor, there weren’t any bubbles on the seal of the cap. The aroma and taste were similar to the previous two vintages with sharp dark fruit in the aroma and at mid palate and notes of dry cocoa and chocolate fudge. As the oxidative notes faded I picked up more dark chocolate, cherry, raisin, fig, and a slight umami / soy note with rich cocoa and chocolate in the aftertaste. I should note that while there were lots of enjoyable flavors in this vintage the umami and oxidative flavors became more apparent once I began comparing vintages and I could tell that this one was on the edge of being past its prime.
Winter 2011-12: Again this vintage had some umami and oxidation note, but also had a good seal on its cap. Upon my first sip I picked up a big hit of dried fig which was followed by dark chocolate. But then my tasting notes took negative tone. I was off put by notes of cardboard that reminded me aged Founders KBS all while trying my best to enjoy the dark chocolate, raisin, and cocoa notes that were still present. As the beer warmed it was the fig flavor that saved the overall experience for me, but I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really care for this vintage and didn’t finish drinking it.
Before I began this tasting I read up on how Brooklyn Black Chocolate stout ages beyond one year in Patrick Dawson’s Vintage Beer book and am pleased to say that I had a similar experience to his. For those who have yet to read this book I’ll share two quotes that will explain what I mean. First, “A taste of wet paper comes up around the two-year mark and gradually increases over time. Though not overwhelming, it becomes disagreeable at around five years. However, this is the same time that medicinal notes develop (again, paralleling the aroma’s development), overriding the other aspects of the beer.” Secondly, “How long to age this beer depends on how much roasted character you desire. If you want an espresso quality, a single year of aging will be enough, but barley wine fans will prefer a three-year-old vintage with its combination of sherry, raisins, and dark chocolate” (Vintage Beer, pgs. 95-96). In turn, for me one year of aging is definitely enough for this beer because I feel that the only flaw of a fresh bottle is a slight lack of balance. However, aging it (and all imperial stouts) at the right temperature is key i.e. if you live in a big city apartment I recommend aging this beer at the back of your beer fridge.
I hope to post more vertical and aged beer tasting notes including more of my opinions on how certain beers and beer styles benefit from aging/cellaring in the coming months. If you’ve done of vertical of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout please comment on this post and let me know about your experiences. Cheers!