For some reason, Guinness's "Alive Inside" campaign has always given me the heebie-jeebies. The thought that all that roiling foam, moving like a slow-mo horizontal lava lamp of boozy goodness, is actually a microscopic civilization just seems unsettling.
Echos of Horton Hears A Who for hopheads ring in my ears as I contemplate drinking cities full of revellers. Destroying lives and families with each sip. My gullet a boiling cauldron of bezelnut oil. I am Thanos, Destroyer of Worlds.
I get what the creatives were at, of course. Something about the way in which a properly poured stout moves, layers of foam and beer seeming to cascade through one another in a regenerative reverse avalanche, seems to speak to a sort of animation. It's as if a glass of stout evolves before your eyes, morphing and flowing like some sort of amorphous cellular colony.
At times, it can be downright frightening, reminiscent of some formless evil from a Stephen King story, mesmerizing you with its shimmering, shifting blackness in the moments before it consumes you.
As I was about to consume my glass of Nøgne Ø/Terrapin Imperial Rye Porter, contemplating its shifting blackness, it fought back. That aforementioned roiling turned violent, as all the tiny denizens of Nøgne Ø-ville surged forward at once. It was like an IED of beer, unexpectedly triggered just as the pour reached its zenith. Lovely. Deadly. Mesmerizing. I had to snap myself out of it and grab a towel, or else face the awkwardness of having my kids turn in suspiciously fragrant homework.
After things calmed down, I was left looking at a glass so black it needs new modifiers. Pitch black. Tar black. Midnight black. Far-side-of-the-event-horizon-black. Topped with a cappuccino-colored head of foam, it looked like the world's largest shot of espresso, destined for the Guinness Book of World Records (ahh, conceit).
Ignoring the cries of millions of tiny, pixilated people, I bent my nose to the glass, and was met with a deep, malty-sweet aroma. A bit of fermented funk and a host of spicy notes play second fiddle, with mild dark fruits, reminiscent of real maraschino cherries, bringing up the rear. It's kind of like smelling caraway-studded rye bread, gilded with a faint smear of jam, accompanied by a cup of coffee.
The flavor leads dark and thick. Rye is right up front, followed by hints of surprisingly moderate roasted coffee. It's creamy and full-bodied, nice and dry, with just a hint of chocolate. A glimmer of dark fruits and gingerbread gives way to the bitterness of darkly roasted coffee.
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As it warms, the fruity and chocolaty elements come to the fore, tempered by spicy, boozy, nutty flavors. Like the anthropomorphic foam that threatened my kids' homework, the beer seems to morph and flow through different characters. From one sip to the next, you might notice more fruit and an almost milk-chocolate creaminess; that fades under the more insistent push of deep, roasty bitterness and a boozy bite; sharp, spicy tones might take over. Even those movements have movements of their own, tiny plays within a play that play across your tongue.
If there really were millions of microscopic people living amongst the suds, at least they'd be going out in fine fashion.