Another better late than never edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the stout hearted folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help find the wine, whiskey, and beer to help you make it through the stormiest of nights.
In Saturday’s WSJ, Joe Queenan confesses that when it comes to the world of craft beer and the ever more creatively named beers within it, he finds himself on the outside looking in:
Sometimes a man has to admit something about himself that he really does not want to admit. That's the way I feel about craft beers. When the topic gets around to craft beers— which it inevitably does—I am left completely out in the cold. I have no idea what Tröeg's Mad Elf Ale tastes like. I couldn't tell Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA from Ommegang Rare Vos if my life depended on it. Is Golden Walrus Imperial Pilsner brewed in Delaware, Prague or Loch Ness?
You got me.
It doesn't help that I don't drink. I used to drink a long time ago, but back then we didn't talk about beer. We merely drank it. We might occasionally discuss wine—especially if we were in France—but beer wasn't viewed as a suitable topic for conversation. Beer was simply an ingenious device one used to get hammered.
Now I constantly find myself frozen out of conversations because I literally know nothing about craft beers. I go to a restaurant in Brooklyn and the sommelier des bières saunters over to the table to discuss Estrella Damm Daura and König Ludwig Weissbier. I stop by a pizza chain in Mount Laurel, N.J., and my best friend spends 15 minutes discussing the marvels of Castelain Two Brothers Diversey & Lill(e) with the waiter.
Then the maître de la Jersey bière appears out of nowhere and rhapsodizes about Goose Island Matilda and Stillwater Existent for another 15 minutes. The subject eventually turns to Southern Tier Iniquity and Flying Dog Underdog Atlantic Lager, as it so often will in pizza chains. Meanwhile, I sit there, meekly sipping my Diet Coke. I am an outcast at life's rich fest.
While I hold a different opinion on the suitability of craft beer as a topic of conservation, I do have a certain amount of sympathy for Queenan and others who are put off by the increasing levels of complexity and specialization with craft beers. It used to be pretty simple. You either liked beers like Bud, MGD, or Coors or you liked Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, or Summit. And when you said Sam Adams you meant their flagship Boston Lager or Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale or Summit’s Extra Pale Ale.
Now, there are literally hundreds of micro breweries cranking out a diverse mix of beer styles and continually coming up with inventive new names for their products. And the big boys within the craft beer world have expanded their offerings with special series and new beer styles to try to keep pace with the new kids on the block.
One such example, with a name that Queenan would love to loathe, is Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal Imperial Stout:
A malt-forward monster, highlighting the depths of malt flavor.
Narwhal Imperial Stout is inspired by the mysterious creature that thrives in deepest fathoms of the frigid Arctic Ocean. Featuring incredible depth of malt flavor, rich with notes of espresso, baker's cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke, Narwhal is a massive malt-forward monster. Aggressive but refined with a velvety smooth body and decadent finish, Narwhal will age in the bottle for years to come.
A four-pack of 12oz bottles sells for $8.99. Stark black label with imperial age font and image of namesake creature in front of a ship’s rigging in stormy seas.
ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: 10.2%
COLOR (0-2): Dark black. 2
AROMA (0-2): Chocolate, coffee, and licorice. 2
HEAD (0-2): Tan, decent volume, good lacing. 2
TASTE (0-5): Dark roasted malt packs a punch that mirrors the smell with strong flavors of coffee and dark chocolate with a bitter finish. The alcohol is apparent, but works well with the big flavors. The mouthfeel is syrupy, thick, yet smooth. The body is heavy and with the rich flavors this is one to savor. 4
AFTERTASTE (0-2): Rich and lasting. 2
OVERALL (0-6): At times, imperial stouts can be overpowering and it can be a fine flavor line between rich and too rich. It’s a line that Narwhal Imperial Stout walks right up to while staying on the side of delicious goodness. It’s a big beer that packs a punch and will keep you toasty on the chilliest of nights. 4
TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16