As the weather turns increasingly in the direction of the blast furnace that is a Houston summer, I've been turning more and more to lighter beers. It's not that I've lost any love for a good stout or porter, they're just not what I want to drink while sitting out on the patio with the grill going. Of course, since starting over here at Brew Blog, I've been loading my fridge with beer to review - my wife has started complaining about the percentage of chill space given up to the project - and a lot of the stash is currently comprised of heavier-weight, winter-weather brews. I decided I ought to start working through some of those before summer is in full effect.
I came across Allagash Black Belgian Style Stout a few days after I first tried and loved another Belgian hybrid, and thought I'd keep with the mash-up motif. These two styles seem, at face value, so disparate that I wasn't sure it was going to work. Sweet, fruity Belgian flavors mingling with dark, bitter stout seems like it could be a recipe for trouble, but it actually works really well.
As expected, Allagash Black pours out dark as midnight, though it's not as opaque as you might expect; when held up to light, it glows like phosphorescent root beer. The creamy, tan head is thin, and tends to settle out into light foaming with a thicker ring around the edges, but the high carbonation does keep it nicely replenished.
As the beer hits the glass, it releases aromas of dark roasted malt, recalling roasting espresso, dark chocolate, buttery toffee, and dried fruit. It smells kind of like a chocolate covered espresso bean with a dried cherry in the center. There's also just a hint of Belgian yeast trying to surface.[jump]
This is a very complex beer, flavor-wise. It is sweet and bitter, earthy and ethereal. Again, roasted malt dominates, with espresso and dark chocolate hitting hard and fast, followed by typical Belgian yeast flavors that seem to whisper through the darkness. The bitterness of all the dark roasted malt doesn't hide, but it doesn't overpower, either.
As the beer warms a bit, it opens up to reveal more obvious yeast, and some interesting ashy flavors. There's a bit of tang, and plenty of earthiness. I'd swear I taste baked potato skins in there, somewhere. Did you know that carbonation has a flavor of its own? Well, it does, and that's here, too, offering its uniquely prickly appeal.
For all those flavors at play, dark as they are, the beer is almost delicate. It's as if each layer of flavor is a thin shell, and cracks easily to give way to the next. The viscosity of the beer is a factor, there, as it's thin enough to move around easily, and doesn't overly coat the tongue, giving different flavor receptors a chance to have their turn, and releasing the aromatics at the same time.
That sprightliness actually worked out well, as I drank it on one of this weekend's balmier evenings. If the beer had been a bit heavier, it might not have been as pleasant on such a warm night. As it is, Allagash Black is uniquely suited to those few transition days we get between sort-of-winter and full on summer. Get it while it's (not quite) hot.