BecauseWeCAN Vol.4: Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts

If winter means anything to brewers and brewery social media managers, it might best be summed up in one word: stout.

Certainly, it's pithier than: "Why the hell do people stop drinking as much beer just because it's colder? Don't they realise we still have bills to pay and mouths to feed? Won't someone please think of the brewers?"

The darker, metalhead, older sibling of beer, stouts are typically regarded as too heavy for summer drinking, but they can be just the medicine you need on a chilly winter's night. The dark and roasted malts that give such beers their colour also provide a toasty backdrop for classic espresso and dark chocolate notes, while the extra alcohol found in many gives you a warm wrap in a beer blanket.

Indeed, strong, dark beers and winter evenings are one of those wonderful natural seasonal pairings as old as taste itself. This annual tradition has led many brewers to forge a pair of wax wings in order to take stouts soaring to intimidating new heights.

Which brings to today, and the fourth edition of BecauseWeCAN: a series dedicated to the wackiest brews, the mad scientists who dream them up, and the processes by which they bring their creations to life.

This time around, we're looking at a trio of limited release imperial stouts each featuring a unique ageing process and/or additional ingredients that caught the eye, crying out: “Benny, you have to try this one!”

Read on to find out how they came into being, and how they rate for novelty (out of 5 Totos) and nailing the brief (out of 5 Ronseals).


BEER 1: BOATROCKER NORDJET

 

Brewer's Notes

As with all things here at Boatrocker, we had a team tasting session, and the brew crew all fell in love with the concept and flavour – although the sales team had their doubts!

Having spent a number of years travelling overseas, including time in Sweden, I fell in love with the crazy, salty liquorice sweets from the Nordic countries. They really give bang for buck with flavour and long-lasting flavour at that! So we thought we'd play on the natural tannins in Ramjet, as this provides some of that tickle on the tongue like ammonium chloride, the salt used in salty liquorice. 

We disgorged a barrel of Ramjet – one slightly older than normal as this provided more tannins – then we added natural liquorice extract and real salted liquorice to macerate for a week or so before processing the beer as normal. It just works... if you like liquorice that is!

We knew this beer would be a love/hate relationship, but we also figured that if we love liquorice there should be enough others who do too.

[For those that do, the perfect setting for it would be] campfire, or fishing (boozy fisherman's friend anyone?!), or as part of dessert... possibly a floater with vanilla ice cream. Matt Houghton


We’re not in Kansas anymore...or are we?

Liquorice. Love it or hate it, you know what it tastes like. Personally, I like liquorice but the idea of consuming it in liquid form backed by an 11 percent ABV beer has me shaking in my smallclothes.  

I don’t remember my first taste of liquorice but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting my first liquorice beer.

3 TOTOS


Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Yep. Veeeerrry liquorice. You will smell it before you taste it – guaranteed.

Pouring with a light, oozing head, the high alcohol content provides a kick that seems to lift the salt flavour of the liquorice, which in turn has a subtle, almost coconut creaminess lingering within each teeth-blackening sip (yes, you’re going to want to sip, this is not a gulper).

The liquorice is the star of the show, tasting like the real, authentic stuff your nana used to sell for two pence a bag. Behind this showy lead singer, however, the whisky barrel-ageing is working away on drums, providing a subtle backbone that makes for an intriguing winter’s treat. 

According to the tin, "the licorice adds an extra dimension to this dark beast." And holy hell, this sure is a beast. 

4 RONSEALS


Final Thoughts

Don’t like liquorice? Don’t buy this. On the fence about liquorice? Still don’t buy it. This is for liquorice lovers only, and they'll have a whole new reason to love it after trying this. 

Indeed, I will never say something tastes like liquorice again. From now on, liquorice tastes like Nordjet.

GABS TASTER - SHARED CAN - TALL BOY - FOUR PACK - BBQ’S SORTED

Read The Crafty Pint's review of the beer here.


BEER 2: MOON DOG JUMPING THE SHARK 2021

 

Brewer's Notes

Dave [Langlands – export manager] and I came up with the idea of a cherry and chocolate imperial stout in rum barrels, Karl [van Buuren – co-owner] came to the party with the idea for the amphora.

We wanted to make something like a cherry ripe but for grown-ups. Once we secured the rum barrels, the concept of the beer followed pretty smoothly – rum goes with coconut, obviously, chocolate and coconut work beautifully together, chocolate in a big stout is as logical as night following day, and the addition of cherry to this mélange is like adding the thing on top.

It was born out of the then unprecedented times of the early pandemic when some of the more exotic ideas had to be shelved due to an increasingly uncertain future. The process – at least in the construction phase of the recipe – is fairly consistent for each beer: what are we trying to make and what can we do with malt, hops, yeast and water to augment these desired characters before adding anything extra?

First off, we can start to build the chocolate using chocolate malt in combination with black malt and caramel malt. Flaked triticale can give (in my estimation) a red berry like flavour, particularly when in cahoots with a big, sweet finish. We might get some coconut like characters from the oak rum barrel, but because rum and coconut are natural animal friends I know we can add the coconut later and it will blend nicely with the present flavours.

After ageing the beer in these barrels for about six months, it was time to figure out how to use cutting edge Bronze Age technology in the 21st Century...

 

 

For the amphora, we made cherry wine from cherry juice and fermented it until it was dry. After this, we racked it into the amphora onto cacao nibs and desiccated coconut, leaving the whole thing to percolate for a month, allowing the flavours from the nibs and coconut to pervade the cherry wine. This was added in its entirety to the barrel-aged beer to give the final product, which is glorious in mine eyes.

Jumping The Shark was always imagined as a beer that pushes the boundaries of what people perceive beer to be, what our brewers are capable of, and how decadent and delicious a beer can be. Each time we release JTS, we pour our heart and soul into the development and production, and this year is no exception. Like all our beers, we want Jumping to Shark to be accessible to everyone – we don’t target our beers to specific groups. Instead, we want to make trying something new a pleasurable and inclusive experience and are confident beers like Jumping The Shark at the very least will provide a fun and enjoyable avenue for a discussion on what beer can be.

As for the ideal setting in which to enjoy one, languidly in front of a fire. Or in place of – or in addition to – any dessert or digestif. Adrian McNulty and Karl van Buuren


We’re not in Kansas anymore...or are we?

Like Boatrocker, Moon Dog have turned making annual, boundary-pushing imperial stouts (and barleywines, for that matter) into a fun sport. In the latter's case, they name their biggest and most pushingest-of-boundaries after the Happy Days event that spelled the end of a golden era – the sort of self-deprecating approach they've since taken with great success with Fizzer seltzers.

Given this year's release makes it eight years since the first JTS, it's a series that's already outlasted Happy Days post-Jumping The Shark, which makes them cooler than Fonzie.

Cherry, chocolate and coconut have been regular attendees of stout parties in previous years, and rum barrels have been known to pop their head in from time to time, but it’s the amphora conditioning that has me excited here. Another beer first for me today and all that at 12.6 percent ABV too!

4 TOTOS


Does exactly what it says on the tin.

There's a lot going on on the label and the first sip is as promised: competitive. Sweet chocolate and cherry flavours get in first leaving echoes of the two conditioning processes. A flick of bitterness has the last word, tickling the back of your throat and leaving your mouth dominated like a cigarette or long black might.

Each and every taste bud is greeted by what I can ultimately say tastes like the sort of rare and expensive chocolate bar only the 1% know about. It might not be the most consistent sip to sip – oh yeah, this is another sipper – with the flavours sometimes lovers, sometimes fighters, but sit down to enjoy this one because it's like a conversation piece for your mouth – and you probably won’t have one like it again.

4 RONSEALS


Final Thoughts

Taste buds = Tickled

Body = Warmed

Shark = Jumped

GABS TASTER - SHARED CAN - TALL BOY - FOUR PACK - BBQ’S SORTED

Read The Crafty Pint's review of the beer here.


BEER 3: 3 Ravens BAPIOS

 

Brewer's notes

We've got a lot of creative minds in the small team here at 3 Ravens, but I generally keep new product development pretty close to my chest. It's one of my favourite parts of the job and something I have a lot of experience with, so it's pretty hard to let go of. Bill (production manager) hates peated malt, and Murray (brewer – pictured above, joyously pumping the first runnings back into the hydrator for the second mash) likes simple brew days, so I don't think either of them would have gone out of their way to brew this one!

I've always been a sucker for bozo beers, particularly big, dumb, barrel-aged barleywines and imperial stouts. Following the success of our biggest beer yet – our midwinter 2019 collaboration with Brouhaha, Barrel Aged Imperial Milk Stout, or BAIMS as we referred to it – I thought it would be fun to see how far we could push the limits with an imperial stout.

The winter solstice is an important milestone in our calendar and the one we identify with most as a brand, so we decided to make it an annual tradition to release a big black beast and hold Dark Mass, an appropriately-themed event at the brewery. We'd been playing around with a high alcohol yeast strain and have had barleywines reach as high as 17 percent ABV so I wanted to push it even further. I also wanted to ensure there was some residual sweetness left after the fermentation topped out to provide balance for the rest of the intense flavours. As opposed to the BAIMS, which featured lactose, we decided to make this one vegan-friendly, focusing this time on oats for texture.

We utilised a process known as iterated mashing, whereby the first runnings (the most sugar rich liquid collected from the mash during lautering in the conventional lauter tun/sparging method) were collected in our kettle, and the second runnings (the weaker liquid – which could still make a very strong beer) were diverted to a second vessel. The first runnings were heated to strike temperature and used to mash in a second load of grain, while the second runnings were used as sparge liquor. The result was an extremely rich wort, to which we also added brewing sugars until our hydrometers could no longer read the density. 

Murray mashed in a little after 4am, I did a token rockstar shift in the middle, and I think Bill finally got out the door around 3am the next day. We don't make a habit of long days, but we do make exceptions for beers as special – and ridiculous – as this.

 

Preparing to get well and truly BAPIOS'd...

 

The grist featured pale and Munich malt, rolled oats, golden naked (malted and caramelised) oats, chocolate and roasted barley, as well as a rather hefty dose (7 percent) of heavily peated distilling malt. The roasted malts were mostly used in the second mash so we could better manage pH throughout the process, with a range of calcium salts and carbonates used to maximise efficiencies and also promote the best flavour outcome. The beer was bittered with Topaz – an unashamedly brash high alpha Australian variety – to 70 IBU, as seemed fitting for such a beer.

In order to tackle the immense sugar load, we started fermentation with a large and healthy crop of a classic London ale yeast strain with a lovely cherry ester profile, as well as a smaller quantity of an enzyme/yeast blend from Fermentis aptly named HA-18 – which stands for High Alcohol 18%. The barrels we used were high quality American oak barrels produced by Seguin in America for Gospel in Brunswick, who use it to mature their straight rye, and they were a combination of Char 3 and Char 4, which is the darkest level – also known as Alligator. Due to the Gospel process, these barrels are only used once, so they were still in excellent condition and had plenty of oak character left to give – as well as the distinct sweetness and spiciness of the rye spirit – over the 12 months the beer spent in them.

I thought the market was going to be minimal and quite narrow but we've been inundated with praise from all corners, and requests to brew more of this, so I feel like we've struck a chord with a wide audience.

BAPIOS is best enjoyed at cellar temperature – or Melbourne winter room temperature room – around 12 to 14C. It is particularly well suited to pairing with blue cheese, chocolate or intense, BBQ like brisket or mushrooms, and makes for an incredible nightcap, particularly if you've got a few hours to enjoy it over. I'd say, given the ABV, it’s best enjoyed with friends or family [and] it also makes for a pretty special boilermaker; I've enjoyed it with Islay malts as well as the Gospel Rye, where you can start to connect the dots between the two. Brendan O'Sullivan


We’re not in Kansas anymore...or are we?

At 18 percent ABV, this is not just the strongest beer to feature here but one of the highest ABV beers I've ever had. If I’ve had a more potent beer than this, there is a good chance I may have, understandably, forgotten about it. 

I love an oatmeal stout, the titular ingredient sneaking in a bit of creaminess. Peat smoked malts are a new one for me [You need to get some Moon Dog Black Lung into you next time it rolls around, or hunt down some Seven Sheds Smoking Bagpipes if you really want to go hard! – Editor], which makes it three new things for three from three beers today. Wish me luck!

4 TOTOS


Does exactly what it says on the tin.

The first three words on the tin: BIG DUMB BEER. Your first words when you taste it: “MEDIC!” A Rammstein song starts playing from your first tongue-tingling sip, hitting with such force you suspect you've given your mouth pins and needles. 

Immediately, I'm reminded of veiny blue cheese and so much smoke it’s like your mouth went off and hung around next to a bonfire for a couple of hours. A few more sips of this beer that looks almost like boiled Vegemite and the walls will start spinning as you pine for a kebab, or a dart, or all the things you want when you’ve got your wobbly boots on.

Big dumb beer indeed.

5 RONSEALS


Final Thoughts

Dentists could use this to numb patients' mouths – and considering the amount of sugar in this brew a trip to the dentist might just be on the cards. Even if your taste has gone the way of cigarettes and black coffee, BAPIOS will resurrect them.

I finished mine with a wedge of Stilton and this beer still let that footy-funky cheese know who’s boss.

GABS TASTER - SHARED CAN - TALL BOY - FOUR PACK - BBQ’S SORTED

Read The Crafty Pint's review of the beer here.


Final Final Thoughts

We don't lose because we fail, we lose because we stop trying, and nobody would suggest the brewers of this trio of beasts have stopped trying. Nor have they failed, and celebrating – as well as interrogating – such endeavours is what BecauseWeCAN is all about.

Among the strongest (or, arguably, strangest) of competition, the latest Jumping The Shark manages to claim the mantle of most out there; it’s a brave thing to name your beer after a show-altering event that rang in a change for the worst, but in a series that's celebrated saffron and truffles in years gone by, they pulled it off again and, more than a decade into their existence, still haven't stopped trying to weird us out. Good on ‘em.


You can find other entries in this series here.

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