Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: A strong stout from the monks at Spencer

By JIM BEAUREGARD May 22. 2018 11:19PM
Spencer Trappist Imperial Stout clocks in at 8.7 percent alcohol by volume. 

Happy with the weather these days? Some days over 90, some in the high 50s — we are definitely in between. While I am tempted to switch over to lighter beers for summer, it seems we still need to think about some big, bold beers for the cold nights that still seem to be hanging on.

To that end, I’m going to share with you today some info on a relatively new stout: Spencer Abbey Trappist Imperial Stout. First, though, let’s talk about stout in general, and what about imperial stout in particular.

A stout, first of all, is marked by its exceedingly dark color, from very dark brown to black, as well as roasted notes — chocolate and coffee, kernel-type flavors — on the nose and palate. The beers are typically made with roasted grains. If it is an English stout, those roasted grains typically provide some good bitterness.

Today’s stouts that are widely available in the United States are derived from the beers of London in the early 19th century and even earlier, when the word was used to describe higher alcohol content with a very bold flavor profile.

Then there is the imperial style. These stouts were first brewed in England for the purpose of export, for quenching the thirst of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great of Russia — that is, for export to an even colder north, and these usually have higher alcohol, 8 percent or better, and tend to be very full-bodied and rich. Imperial stouts are considered among the biggest and strongest beers we have. While they were made for centuries in England, shipping to the Baltic trailed off before World War I, and the brewers in the Baltic decided it was a style worth maintaining and so began brewing their own.

At the same time, this is certainly not a purely European phenomenon. Stouts have found their way into the American market, and many craft brewers have turned to making stouts. In fact, the United States currently produces more stout than any other country on the planet. Crafters here have tweaked the recipes a bit, sometimes aging the beer in bourbon barrels.

In terms of flavor profile, most contemporary stout beers are rich and deep, very strong, often with chocolate and coffee roasted notes, sometimes with dried fruit in the mix as well. They pair well with strong cheeses, such as most hard cheeses, and could accompany a weighty dessert as well. And, while aging is usually thought of in the context of wine, beers can be aged as well. Beers that are rich in flavor and complexity can in fact improve with age. In the years ahead, I expect we will see with increasing frequency some vertical tastings of such beers.

Spencer Abbey Trappist Imperial Stout: 8.7% alcohol by volume; $14.99 for a pack of four 11.2 ounce bottles. This, of course, is made by the Trappist monks down in Spencer, Mass., the first Trappist Brewery in the New World.

This imperial stout has average size head, light brown in color, creamy with a little bit of frothiness in the middle. The beer is very dark brown to black. On the nose, the malt ranks first and highest, with coffee, chocolate, caramel, and some cookie notes. The hops are very low and barely noticeable on the nose.

On the palate, it is slightly off dry, because of the caramel flavors, with medium bitterness, acidity and tannin. The alcohol, while running at almost 9 percent, is remarkably well integrated.

This is a full-bodied beer, silky/creamy on the palate, with medium-plus flavor intensity that reflects the bold nose, including coffee, chocolate, caramel, and toast notes. It has a very long finish. Excellent.

Contact wine and beer writer Jim Beauregard at tastingnotesnh@aol.com


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