|Two of these beers feature a flaming red-eyed demon with gnashing teeth|
It’s been absolutely perishing in the evenings of late. It’s that kind of time when only something dark, strong and stimulating will do – preferably by the fireside. I’ve therefore summoned together three behemoths as black as night to ward off the chill. These beers have attitude and a possible history of assault. In both senses of the term, they’re also full of beans.
We have a bottle of 3 Bean Stout – a collaboration between Norwegian brewers Lervig Aktiebryggeri and Brazilian brewers Way Beer. This stout is made with tonka beans which are the seeds of the South American Cumaru tree. I’ve no idea what tonka tastes like but It’s related to the pea family. It also has vanilla and coco beans. It’s a stonking 13 ABV.
Then we have our own Beavertown Brewery’s ‘Spresso – an imperial espresso stout made with the help of London roasters Caravan with 40kg of their Guatemalan Xutuc coffee beans so again, we’re with South America as a theme. It’s also been brewed with oats and molasses. This beer’s in a can and features a psychotic red-eyed skull with pronounced teeth in front of a flaming background.
Finally, we have a bottle of Flying Dog’s Kujo imperial coffee stout from Virginia in the U.S. They source their beans from black dog coffee. The following excerpt features on the reverse of the label: “Enjoy your new pet!”, he said. Twelve hours later, your heart is pounding as you wake up to find the savage beast growling over a puddle of your neighbour’s organs” Delightful. The aforementioned beast on the label looks psychotic with a glowing red eye, pronounced teeth and flames in the background. Is this recurring motif down to deranged minds thinking alike or a side-effect attributable to drinking imperial coffee stouts?
I’m not sure whether any of these culprits is conditioned with yeast or sugar. I didn’t read it or see any in the blackness that trickled out.
Lervig 3 Bean Stout (13 ABV):
Tonka beans can be grated like nutmeg. Also like nutmeg, it can be toxic in large doses but then so can alcohol, coffee and chocolate. It’s used in the manufacture of perfume and is a popular gourmet cooking spice in French desserts. In the U.S.A it’s been technically illegal since 1954 as it was considered to be a blood-thinner. It’s also been likened to opium. After all that, sipping this beer is either going to be a near-religious experience or a needle that’ll prick the anticipation I’ve swelled up into.
The pour’s not actually black but an intense dark brown with blood red at the edges and is utterly viscous. The head is more of a khaki tattoo imprinted onto the surface like an orb spider web rather than anything you can swirl up. You don’t get coffee on the aroma (which is fair enough as there isn’t any in it). Instead, it smells like a cross between enamel paint and cherry liqueur. I’d go so far as to say the aroma’s like that strawberry cream you get in chocolate assortment boxes most people leave behind. It’s light on the sip but you feel the alcohol kindled in the back of the throat like a spoonful of cough syrup. The aroma overwhelms the taste. It’s dry but the mouthfeel’s silky. The aftertaste’s sticky.
An unexpected dimension to this is the sense of inhaling sawdust from a hopper. It reminds me of woodworking class – the ozone of exertion and heat from manually sawing wood. Once the senses have got accustomed to it, I warm to it more. You do feel the booze smouldering like rum but somehow the body remains even. It isn’t a top-heavy feel. Gradually, you even start to taste something akin to coffee from the coco if not from the tonka. That sawdust edge becomes more like something bordering lolly stick and liquorice root.
I’m a bit disappointed that with all these exotic ingredients I wasn’t sent on a more exotic journey.
Beavertown ‘Spresso (9.5 ABV):
The hop oil in the head is the same off-orange as that gritter salt you see in patches on pavements melting the one inch of snow we get in winter. The liquid itself is jet black and so dense in the glass it creates a perfect obsidian Escher portrait reflection (see image).
Sweet chocolate stick liqueur on the aroma with a touch of iodine and brown sugar. On the tongue, there’s a bitumen bitterness and strips of soft torn chocolate cake, chunks of dark bourbon biscuits and an oil slick of dates and figs. All very rich and comforting.
It’s heavy but straightforward and harbours no twists.
Flying Dog Kujo (8.9 ABV):
I read Cujo by Stephen King when I was about 14. Is the spelling discrepancy to avoid litigation?
You can tease up a crayola brown head but it’s fleeting and reduces to an edge-hugging corona. The aroma is dry and sticky like heated liquorice – burning rubber even. You have to pull your nostrils away to avoid intoxication just on the vapours alone. There’s a cloying demerera edge to the bouquet too. Dry black 80% cocoa powder dust lands on the tongue. It parches the gullet like a pipe cleaner. This twists into a kind of gnawing woody taste.
It’s tangy and the strength outweighs any balance but maybe I’m being too British with my hankering for moderation. When you see a barista knocking a coffee spatula against the wooden block to dislodge the compacted “cake”, this beer has that as a character – both the contents and the banging. Sweaty hands foraging in a bin of used coffee filters – those fingers then stuff your face with rich coffee sponge. It’s a satisfying experience but it’s the kind of Red Bull hit that might set your temples pounding.
In conclusion, 3 Bean Stout could maybe do with an economy of ingredients. I couldn’t for example, pick out the vanilla – usually an ingredient that overwhelms. Maybe on tap it would tell a different story. It’s still a beer that deserves respect but it definitely comes third in this round-up.
I’m split between the two psychotic-eyed brews. Kujo really is like being mauled but that’s exactly what the bottle is in pains to make clear. It never promised such anaemic notions like moderation or balance so it does exactly what the label implies. ‘Spresso I like precisely because it is more drinkable and balanced – how’s that for hypocrisy? It doesn’t quite live up to the menace of its schizoid skull and presented in its little can, it’s more cute than savage. It’s more suave than unhinged. Pushed, I’m going to go with Kujo as it stays completely in character. If balance is what you seek, look elsewhere. I’ll bring it back when I review Saisons in a forthcoming post.
Flanders Red Ale
Heavy Rye Beers
Strong Black IPAs