Imperial stout

Fundamentals #47 — Buxton X J. Wakefield Coral Castle Coconut Infused Imperial Stout

I haven’t forgiven Florida’s J. Wakefield Brewery for its use of what I feel was sexist branding on many of its labels, especially when its Gourdita pumpkin beer still does. So why am I reviewing Coral Castle, a coconut-infused imperial stout brewed in collaboration with Buxton, you may ask?

Perhaps it’s because I believe in second chances and the ability to move one’s position once presented with new information. And the brewery did apologise. Also, perhaps, there’s significance in that this US brewery has forged several deep friendships here in the UK, expressed through collabs with the likes of Cloudwater and Mondo, as well as Buxton. There’s a great deal you can learn through collaboration, and also if you’re not acting right, your friends should be the first to set you straight.

J. Wakefield isn’t off the hook for me yet, but Buxton deserves all the plaudits for its beers, and this one is outstanding. The condition I find myself in when drinking this beer, however, is a long way from that.

I was just in Denver for this year’s Craft Brewers Conference. While the days at CBC are filled with seminars and panel talks and looking at the canning lines whirring away in demo mode on the trade show floor, the evenings, well, they’re about studying the host city’s beer culture. It may not surprise to hear you that Denver has this in spades. And so I wake up the morning after the night before a little worse for wear, and the fear sets in. Have I missed my deadline? Is it today? Oh shit.

Thankfully I had the beer with me in my suitcase, with the intention of drinking it at a sensible time. But time, I thought, was out. So I did what any self-respecting beer writer would do, and poured the can out into one of the plastic cups in my motel room, and began making my tasting notes.

I wouldn’t normally recommend drinking an 8.5% ABV stout at 10.30am on a hangover. But with my palate morning-sharp (ish) and my other senses dulled by the previous night’s indulgence, this beer proved to be the perfect hair of the dog. It was rich, roasty and delicious, the ever-so-carefully adorned coconut adding just the right dose of playful flavour, almost vanilla and bourbon barrel-like in character.

After tasting, I grabbed my laptop to start typing up my notes, sending Hop Burns & Black’s Jen a panicked message that the copy would be with her shortly. “It doesn’t need to be in until Monday, Matt,” came the reply. Ah.

The lessons to take away from this experience are: to always write your deadlines down, that delicious beers do indeed taste delicious at any time of the day, coconut works beautifully in imperial stouts, and to never let those guilty of potentially marginalising behaviour off the hook, ever. Happy beer-drinking, everyone.

Matthew Curtis is a freelance writer, photographer and author of our award-winning Fundamentals column. He's written for publications including BEER, Ferment, Good Beer Hunting and Original Gravity. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis. We have a mere handful of Coral Castle cans left, pick one up while you can…

#HBBAdvent Beer 16: Lervig Konrad's Stout (Norway)

Lervig says: We’ve been producing this stout since 2010. We wanted to make a straightforward Imperial Stout with a Scandinavian touch to it, so we used a lot of dark malts and just the right water chemistry to give the beer a very soft mouth feel with coffee and Liquorice notes.

We say: Lervig Aktiebryggeri, from Stavanger in Norway, is brewing some of the greatest dark beers in Europe right now, whether they’re adjunct-rich pastry stouts, barrel-aged chocolate martini stouts or this bittersweet imperial stout. The malt base carries coffee, liquorice, dried fruit and berries perfect for in a cold dark sunday with a pre-Christmas cheese board (or if you're still craving pastry, a warm mince pie!). - Nathan, HB&B Deptford Manager

Fundamentals #18 – Amundsen Bryggeri Dessert In A Can Pecan & Maple Pie Imperial Stout

“Check out the discus of my meniscus.” That’s what I’d probably say if I posted a picture of this beer to Instagram. That’s what all the kids are saying these days, right?

I’ll freely admit the pastry stout phenomenon has passed me by. Call me old fashioned but my favourite beers are, in general, ones that taste like beer – like malt, hops, yeast and water. I enjoy it when brewers experiment with ingredients such as fruit, spices or coffee. But I often struggle with beers that taste more like pudding (hence the term “pastry stout” for those who might not have come across it before) than they do beer. I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, though.

What I admire about this beer is that it makes no bones about what it is. It’s literally called “Dessert In A Can”. The label notes ask why would you bother going to the length of pairing a beer with dessert when you can simply drink a beer that tastes like it. Basically, Amundsen is saying this is the beer equivalent to Head & Shoulders. Why take two into the shower? Etc.

While this beer wasn’t really my thing, I found myself discovering a soft spot for it as I enjoyed it late one Sunday evening. That might have had something to do with the face-warmingly large 11.5% ABV, undetectable behind the layers and layers of sweetness that this beer possesses. It pours like oil into the glass, rising to the rim and providing a perfect, oubliette dark silhouette in the glass. Ideal for sharing with your friends on your preferred social media platform.

Dessert In A Can’s aroma is a little like a fresh-out-the-oven crème brulée. To taste, it’s a little like drinking a homemade blend of condensed milk, maple syrup and treacle, with the sticky body coating your palate just like the aforementioned would. It’s a beer that makes no bones about what it is though, and the sweet of tooth would surely demolish a beer like this. For me, a chaser of bourbon provided the cut of alcohol I felt it needed to machete its way through all that cloying sugar, however.

It’s definitely a beer worth trying though, because is a really fun beer. You could say it puts the “fun” in “fundamental”.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a can of Amundsen's Dessert In A Can series here.

#HBBAdvent Beer 24: Northern Monk Black Forest Strannik Imperial Stout (Leeds)

Northern Monk says: So nice, we literally double mashed twice. We're bringing another favourite from last year in the form of the delightfully decadent Black Forest Strannik. An Imperial Russian Stout with added cherries.

We say: We wanted something really special to finish off the advent calendar, and what better than this ridiculously sumptuous imperial stout. Rich, boozy and exploding with dark fruitiness, we couldn't think of a better beer to sit back with on Christmas Eve - so that's what we're going to do. Merry Christmas, everyone - thanks for coming along on our advent ride and for all your support in 2017. - All of us here at HB&B

The Beer Lover’s Table: Caramelised White Chocolate Mousse and Partizan’s Imperial White Russian Stout

Most people’s bucket lists comprise the exotic destinations they want to visit before they die. Mine, on the other hand, lists all the recipes I want to cook while I’ve still got the chance.

I mention this only because caramelised white chocolate has been on the top of that list for a long time. The concept is simple enough: place white chocolate on a baking sheet, bake it at a low temperature, remove it from the oven, and stir at frequent intervals until it’s gone the colour of toasted almonds or deep, burnished toffee. After caramelising, the chocolate is blended with cream; the result is like dulce de leche or salted butter caramel, plus a whisper of cocoa. Needless to say, it’s pretty phenomenal—and, as I’ve discovered, well worth the effort of preparing from scratch.

Once it’s made, you can store a jar of your caramelised white chocolate and use it however you’d like (I’d recommend pouring it over ice cream, spreading it on toast, or using it to top Belgian-style waffles). You can also sub it in for regular chocolate in a range of recipes—including this mousse, which I like to serve alongside Partizan’s Imperial White Russian Stout.

I think there are two different kinds of (successful) food and beer pairings: those which pair perfectly complementary flavours, and those which feature contrasting flavours which, when combined, can delight and surprise.

For me, this pairing falls in the latter category. Normally, pairing a sweet and creamy dessert with a less sweet beer can be problematic. But in this case, the mousse draws out the beer’s coffee notes and heightens its bitterness. In this way, an intense, 9% ABV imperial stout becomes an unexpectedly refreshing foil, contrasting the richness and sugar with each moreish sip. The effect is something like an affogato: the first shock of bitterness and sweetness together, the beauty of the way they meld together into a finishing harmony.

Caramelised White Chocolate Mousse
Serves 4

For the caramelised white chocolate:
200g high-quality white chocolate (containing at least 30% cocoa solids)
150ml double cream
1 pinch Maldon sea salt

Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C. If you’re using fèves or other small pieces of white chocolate, pour them in a single layer onto a clean baking sheet or Pyrex tray. If you’re using a bar of chocolate, chop it roughly into small pieces using a serrated knife, and pour onto your prepared tray.

Place in the pre-heated oven and cook for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and stir the chocolate with a dry spatula; the chocolate will be beginning to melt and clump. Spread it in as even a layer as possible, and cook again for 10 minutes, before removing from the oven and stirring with a clean spatula again.

Repeat these steps until the chocolate has baked for between 50-60 minutes total. By the end, it should smell nutty and caramelised, and its colour should be a deep toffee brown. Depending on the brand of chocolate you use, it may melt fully or may resemble drier crumbles; both work just fine, so don’t worry if the appearance is a little surprising.

Once the chocolate has finished baking, add it to a food processor, along with 150ml of double cream (ideally warmed to room temperature) and a generous pinch of Maldon sea salt. Blend for at least 3-4 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula, or until the mixture is thick and entirely smooth with no clumps. When finished, it should look like dulce de leche and taste absolutely divine.

For the mousse:
Caramelised white chocolate
2 large egg yolks
2 tbs caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
450ml double cream, divided (70ml, 230ml and 150ml)

Place the prepared caramelised white chocolate in a large bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, add the egg yolks and the caster sugar, and whisk until the mixture is smooth and light yellow.

In a small saucepan, heat the vanilla and 70ml of double cream over medium-low heat until the mixture is simmering. Remove from the heat. Pour over the egg yolk and sugar mixture in a very slow but steady stream, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs.

When the egg mixture is fully incorporated, pour back into the saucepan and stir, over low heat, until it’s thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat. Place a fine-meshed sieve over the bowl of caramelised white chocolate, and pour the warm egg mixture over it. Stir until the mix is completely blended.

In a large bowl, add 230ml of double cream. Using an electric mixer, whisk until it has formed not-quite- stiff peaks. Fold half the whipped cream gently into the chocolate mixture until smooth; fold the remaining cream in until smooth.

Divide the mixture among four ramekins. Cover and chill for at least two hours, or until completely set.

When ready to serve, whisk the remaining 150ml of double cream with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Top each ramekin with a dollop of whipped cream for good measure.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and all-around lover of tasty things. When she's not cracking open a cold one, she's probably cooking up roasted lamb with hummus. Or chicken laksa. Or pumpkin bread. You can follow her at @clairembullen. Pick up Partizan's Imperial White Russian Stout while stocks last in store or at our online shop

Fundamentals #7 – Omnipollo/Dugges Anagram Blueberry Cheesecake Stout

I’m sure you’re already well aware of what make up the core ingredients within a beer: water, malt, yeast and hops. As part of Fundamentals the aim is to explore those and other, perhaps less thought of ingredients, such as the oak of a barrel, the addition of fruit juice or zest, or even harnessing wild bacteria for natural fermentation. In beer, for me at least, a fundamental can be any one of those things and more.

However, I’m curious. Can the design that sits on a bottle or can itself be considered as one of the fundamentals of beer? Of course it can. In fact I would argue that the way a beer presents itself on the shelf is as crucial as the malt bill or hop additions.

Sweden’s Omnipollo has made a point of striving for uniqueness in the beer aisle on every bottle it produces. It should come as no surprise that Karl Grandin, Omnipollo’s co-founder, is an illustrator and graphic designer who also helped to set up the Cheap Monday fashion brand. In fact when the Omnipollo and Cheap Monday brands are placed side by side, the similarities between the two are immediately obvious.

Although the brewery is officially based in Stockholm, Omnipollo is a nomadic brewery, much like Denmark’s Mikkeller, and brews in various locations, including at the UK’s Buxton Brewery.

Omnipollo has garnered a reputation for producing some pretty outrageous beers. Its Yellow Belly peanut butter stout – a collaboration with the aforementioned Buxton – is a great example of this. Anagram is another collaboration, this time with Dugges Brewery, fellow Swedes based near the city of Gothenburg.

Anagram is an imperial stout that weighs in at a hefty 12% ABV and tastes exactly as it says on the bottle: of rich, sweet and sticky blueberry cheesecake. It’s heavy going but every sip is laced with fun and the Omnipollo team are masters of making beers that make your palate laugh with joy.

I’ll be honest here, the reason I won’t tell you what makes it taste of blueberry cheesecake is that you probably don’t want to know. Just take my advice and maybe stick to salads or do some light exercise before you drink one.

As bonkers as the taste of this beer is though, it’s Grandin’s designs that lure you in. The label on this bottle tells you nothing of the beers style, it’s just a clever mesh of both Omnipollo’s and Dugges branding, artfully screen-printed in “millennial pink”. The design is so striking that it ends up piquing that curiosity reflex in your brain before you’ve even turned the bottle around to find out what the beer tastes like.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. Water, barley, wheat, oats, sugars, yeast, bacteria and even adjuncts such as fruit or maize are all fundamental parts of what make up our favourite beers. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of Omnipollo/Dugges Anagram in store or online now.

Fundamentals #4 – Tempest Mexicake Imperial Stout

When I think of chillis and Hop Burns & Black, my mind is immediately transported back to the first ever Chilli Karaoke event that HB&B supremos Jen and Glenn organised. The event, which took place at the short-lived Beerkat on Holloway Road, involved singing half a song, eating a Scotch Bonnet pepper and then attempting to sing the remainder of your chosen tune.

For some reason I decided to be the event’s first ever competitor. I had picked Yazoo’s 80’s synthpop belter Don’t Go as my track of choice and as I began to channel my inner Alison Moyet it was all going swimmingly - that is, until, I ate (and subsequently spat out) the pepper. The remaining minute or so, which felt like a great deal longer, was spent attempting to sing while fighting back a near uncontrollable urge to vomit up the contents of my stomach. It was a lot of fun and should Jen and Glenn decide to hold the event again I strongly encourage you to take part.

This week’s beer has nothing to do with Scotch Bonnets but it is from current Scottish Brewer of the Year Tempest Brewing Co. Mexicake is an adjunct-laden imperial stout that features cinnamon, vanilla beans, cocoa along with a large addition of Ancho, Mulato and Chipotle chillies. With Hop Burns & Black being slingers of excellent hot sauce as well as beer, it’s the latter that has piqued my interest.

As its name would suggest, Mexicake is a Mexican inspired imperial stout and it’s that which has influenced that impressive bill of adjuncts. I caught up with Tempest’s Head Brewer Douglas Rowe to find out what the addition of three different varieties of chilli adds to this beer.

“The combination of these flavours along with the heat compliments the other flavours in the beer nicely and helps balance the sweetness in the beer,” Rowe says. “Achieving the correct balance is the key to making a good beer, no matter which style.

“We dose the chili at different stages throughout the process to achieve various levels of heat and flavour. We also make up a fairly spicy chilli extract, which we can then dose in later in the process depending on how the beer is shaping up!”

However, don’t expect Mexicake to blow your head off. Instead, expect a mellow wave of heat that is balanced by the sweetness of the vanilla and cinnamon along with a wave of what tastes to me like black treacle from the ton of malted barley used in each brew of this beer.

What’s most impressive about Mexicake is just how well all these flavours work together, creating a very balanced beer that drinks easy, especially when you consider its hefty ABV of 11%. It’s a winner for me and on this evidence it’s not at all surprising why Tempest has won the lofty title of Scottish Brewer of the Year.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. Water, barley, wheat, oats, sugars, yeast, bacteria and even adjuncts such as fruit or maize are all fundamental parts of what make up our favourite beers. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of the amazing Tempest Mexicake in store or online now.

Fundamentals #3 – Marble Brewery Lost Your Marbles Red Wine B.A. Forest Fruits Imperial Stout

It really feels like Manchester’s Marble Brewery has reasserted itself as one of the nation's most relevant breweries over the past few months. Not that there should ever have been any doubt.

Under the watchful eye of head brewer James Kemp and his team, Marble has refined its core range, introduced a breathtaking new range of hop forward beers under its “Metal Series” label and released a series of complex and accomplished barrel aged beers. There was a small blip when they decided to discontinue the transcendent Dobber, one of the most important beers in my personal drinking history, but that’s OK because I’m heading to Manchester to brew it with Marble as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations later this year.

Lost Your Marbles has been released as two iterations – one barrel aged with Brettanomyces and this one, which has been aged in Pinot Noir barrels along with an addition of cherries, blackberries, blackcurrants, raspberries and redcurrants. It’s a collaboration between returning Marble brewer Joe Ince (who until recently was brewing at Magic Rock) and Dan Whitehead de Bechevel, who has recently left Marble to start his own brewery: the imaginatively named Dan’s Brewery.”

The fundamental that fascinates me in this particular beer is not the fruit but the barrels itself. None other than winemaker Andrew Nielsen of Le Grappin sourced the French Pinot Noir barrels that this beer was aged in. You might not have heard Nielsen’s name before but it's one you should learn because he has provided several other breweries, including Redchurch, Wild Beer Co and Burning Sky with wine barrels of their own. [ED: As well as making awesome wine of his own!]

I contacted Marble’s Joe Ince to ask why he selected these barrels in particular for ageing this beer. “I wanted the barrels to help mellow the stock beer, allow for longer term ageing without adding too much tannin, something I'm very wary of with wood,” he says. “I was also hoping they would add a little funk and help the fruit really come through, which I think they did. Although not a wine drinker I quite like Pinot Noir as it always presents with cherry and raspberry to me.”

The resulting beer is velveteen in texture, with a lusciously smooth carbonation. Ince has certainly achieved the low tannin and high fruit flavour content he desired. The rich chocolate malts are met by the tartness of black cherries and raspberries, producing a flavour not unlike black forest gateau, which also happens to have been the brewers' end goal with this beer.

It definitely benefits from being allowed to warm in the glass a little first and I reckon that a few months longer in the bottle wouldn’t do it any harm either – especially if you want those funky, tart flavours to come to the fore. Don’t hang about though - only 1200 bottles have been produced and based on this tasting they won’t be about for long.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. Water, barley, wheat, oats, sugars, yeast, bacteria and even adjuncts such as fruit or maize are all fundamental parts of what make up our favourite beers. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And pick up a bottle of Marble's exceptional Lost Your Marbles Red Wine BA Forest Fruits in store or online now.

#HBBAdvent Beer 5: Siren Craft Brew/Garage Project Blacklight Banana Imperial Stout (Finchamstead/New Zealand)

Siren/Garage Project says: For this year’s Rainbow Project collaboration with Garage Project we drew the colour indigo. After much research on both sides the idea that excited us all most was that of the Blacklight Banana. Ripe bananas uniquely glow bright indigo under UV lights, one possible reason for this being that it identifies them as a food source for animals that see in the UV range, like bats. Molasses, caramelised bananas, banana purée and bourbon barrel aged coffee beans elevate this beer to something special.

We say: We always look forward to Rainbow Day, where the collaborative efforts of the seven participating UK breweries and their international counterparts are released. The 2016 project had special interest to us as it featured seven (or six, as it transpired this year) New Zealand breweries, including Garage Project, probably the most hyped Kiwi brewery never to make it to UK shelves. Jos and his team are doing exceptional things in the Aro Valley, as we discovered during an infamous 22-beer tasting session when we were back in January, and we can't wait until they decide to export over here. In the meantime, this lush impy stout, brewed with Siren, helps to ease the pain of Garage Project's absence. And who said you can't drink a 9.2% stout on a Monday? You've earned this. - Jen

Each night, we'll reveal the day's hand-picked beer from our Big Beery Advent Calendar. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter or Instagram (#HBBAdvent). Find Blacklight Banana in store or via our online shop.