Nothing says “winter beer” like a foot of falling snow and commute both ways through the inanity of people who refuse to admit that “all season” tires were invented for Florida – except perhaps another delicious entry from Brasserie DunHam.
Some of you will remember a previous post on DunHam’s “Black IPA” which elicited quite a few oohs and ahs. Their next entry is an “Imperial Black IPA” and at 8%, this definitely has some imperial weight behind it. The question was would it deliver as it’s lighter weight brother had previously.
The aroma is unmistakably that of the roasted malts and barley. And when you pour it — as you’ll see in the picture below — you might be forgiven if you think there are actually bits of barley floating in the waters of this black Sargasso sea. This beer produces a beautiful malty head very reminiscent of a Guinness but unlike that ubiquitous stout, this fades to a fine weave of lace that clings to the sides of the glass the whole way. But underneath that head are a suspended “something” that may startle or at least leave you curious. This is the second pour I’ve had of this, and it was the same both times. You may be questioning if there is something wrong with the batch, or this is normal – should you drink it pour it out? You may ask, if, next time, should you instead remember not to pour to the end? The answer can be found in that last prepositional phrase: the end … the lees. Surely, this is my best photographic example yet of what sur lies really means – though the last beer I reviewed, “Déesse D’Ham-Sud,” does a pretty good job as well.
You’d look at this suspended sediment and swear you’re going to get a crunch or push back when it moves through the mouth — but here’s the neat thing: it is actually as soft as that bean curd you see suspended in Miso soup and there is nothing unappetizing about it. You can see it, yes, but it is otherwise, truly, not there, and not a factor.
So what about the taste? Molasses is first on the lips with some definite spice: cardamom, pepper, a bit of anise and clove. With the roasted malts there is also a not surprisingly big chocolate kick to it as well. And at the very back end of the palette, in that mouthful region, I can definitely pull off some smokiness, almost like an ancho chili taste – beautiful. The chili aside, which I’m still ooh’ing over, these are all things you’d expect in a winter beer … and, in particular, an Imperial stout which I’m assuming is part of the inspiration behind this beer and which lends it part of its name. As I understand it, an Imperial stout is a very dark, strong stout first produced for export to Catherine the Great (hence the “Imperial” moniker).
However, where this beer really excels and makes me truly love it is with the second half of the moniker – IPA – and the amazing bitters this brings to the beer. At a whopping (and I mean HUGE) 117 IBUs, this is bitter at the top end. What’s amazing is that it doesn’t really taste that big a bitter and I expect it is because the hops are well-balanced – exceptionally well-balanced – with the sweet caramels and malts. The after taste is definitely all IPA, there is no doubt about it in the least. And it has that tell-tale astringency that some describe as “cottony” or “papery” which leaves a little bit of a burn on the tongue. If the beer improved at all, it would be with this final detail.
But truly, in my opinion, DunHam sets a very high standard in winter beers with this entry and this now makes the microbrewery two for two in the splendid category. Must explore their wares more. And if you were lamenting that those light IPAs were more for summer and, oh, what to drink — well, you have your answer … just make sure you buy more than one.
Pairing suggestion: Still recovering from my snow and shoveling, a hot bowl of Polish borscht seemed a great idea and cousin enough to work with this beer … and I must say, it worked pretty well. A better pairing would probably be beef, though, like a well-marinated and very flavourful prime rib rubbed in garlic and rosemary (yes, I’ll give the recipe one of these days).
Stats: American Black Ale. 8% ABV. 117 IBUs. Dunham, Quebec.
Mouth Feel: Thick micro-carbonation with a creaminess and high retention.