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Classic Beer of the Month July 2018: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, 10%

My son – who is relatively new to this beer drinking game – recently learned about the business the hard way.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate StoutOn a visit to a speciality beer bar, he took time to scan the list of bottled beers and opted for a strong dark brew that, he felt, would suit his rather sweet tooth perfectly.

Only when the beer was poured did he realise that the charge for this 355-ml bottle was a hefty £9. Suffice to say, he quickly needed that drink, although he did comment afterwards that ‘it was very nice’.

The beer in question was Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout. It’s a beer that’s been around since 1994 and was one of the first beers Brooklyn’s brewmaster Garrett Oliver created for the brewery. Although it is only available on draught in the winter months, it is sold in bottle for year-round drinking.

The style is imperial Russian stout, with the chocolate character generated not by adding chocolate but by what the Brooklyn website enigmatically describes as ‘a blend of American roasted malts’. The hops are Willamette and American Fuggles, but it’s that malt that does most of the talking.

My earliest tasting notes for the beer date back twelve years. I noted then that this deep ruby-black brew was filled with chocolate, coffee and other bitter roasted grain flavours, with hints of liquorice and a gently vinous character.

A couple of years later, I tried another sample. I found it had an oily-smooth, nicely warming flavour of bitter dark chocolate, pepper and liquorice. It wasn’t as obviously chocolaty as the name suggests, but I thought it was a classy beer with a winey character. 

Prime Candidate for Cellaring

What I’d never done until recently was to taste an aged bottle, which is what Brooklyn suggests that you do, given its high alcohol content and ‘sturdy character’ that make it a ‘prime candidate for cellaring’.

So I dug out a bottle that had been sitting in my store for nearly four years, dusted it off, gently prised off the cap and allowed the viscous dark liquid to flow into the glass.

It was unctuous and rich, mostly sweet and very smooth, tasting of bitter Belgian chocolate and a little coffee, with a suggestion of liquorice as it warmed in the mouth.

The body was not too full and, while a gentle warmth and a subtle vinous character betrayed its strength, the alcohol was superbly restrained.

I had expected the beer to have lost some of its shine, with freshness the first casualty of time in the bottle and perhaps oxidation notes beginning to overshadow the flavours I had recognised in the beer when it was young. Not so. The beer was as complex and majestic as before.

I poured my son a small glass. I’m not sure he’d pay £9 again for a bottle, but – just like that first time, once the shock had worn off – he was very impressed.

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