A cool, cloudy day with still lots of snow on the lawns seemed as good as any for a return to winter … and to Imperial Black IPAs.
I grabbed this beautifully styled bottle Le Naufrageur’s Raccoon out of the fridge thinking at first this was an imperial stout. The capped popped, the smells immediately transported me back to the Multi-Brasses example I had a few nights ago. The pour was also an impenetrable obsidian … clearly high on the SRM scale (we’re learning, right?). The head, with a little effort was a rich, tight tan which sat gorgeous on the black trampoline of the beer.
But that first taste – that first taste, so important, threw me off guard. I was expecting the sweet, dark malts and the spices I have already begun to associate with an imperial stout. What I was immediately struck by was the grassy and very earthy layer which was foreplay for a very tiny mid-taste of chocolate and dark caramel that was immediately over swept by huge bitters. I spent a few minutes trying to process what was so different between this imagined imperial stout and the one I had had previously. This was clearly not as sweet and there was no disguising the larger alcohol by volume that popped at an incredible 10% … and while it tasted strong, it wasn’t vapor’y nor alcoholic. Really, it was that earthy bitterness that I kept coming back to … and I knew without even reviewing my notes that this was much bigger in IBUs – and indeed it was at 85 – and that it made no pretense of balancing these out or hiding them. This sure tasted more like an IPA, that was for sure.
Then I sat down to write and my mistake became clear. This was not a pure imperial stout … this was an imperial black IPA.
I share my mistake and thinking process with you because it demonstrates the importance of reading a label … or at least in not forming preconceptions before tasting. The mind plays a huge role in managing and preparing for expectations and a taste can certainly be enhanced or destroyed by planting a mistaken expectation. But what I think my experience and discovery process nicely shows is the factual difference between an imperial stout vs. an imperial black IPA. While certainly similar, there are striking differences than can unsettle even a discerning palette.
Coming back to this beer, and putting the initial shock behind me, the aroma is magnificent and will appeal to anyone who loves chocolate. It’s also a rich beer and also bit like a wild stallion, so once you approach it with a bit more caution, you’re less likely to kicked onto your keister. Approached with care, the richness of the oats reveals its oatmeal-stout ancestry and there is some anise that rides along as well – probably a second cousin, once-removed. The finish is rounded out by the excellent and very buttery and creamy diacetyls. Very yummy indeed. Trying to think how I can slather some rye toast with this stuff … but I digress.
On the whole, a great beer. This isn’t called the HMCS Raccoon without good reason either. The beer is named after a civilian and pleasure yacht built in Gaspe that was pressed into war service; it was sank by a German U-boat in 1942 during the battle of the St. Lawrence. It’s also interesting to note that Le Naufrageur translates as a “wrecker.” This ruinous back-story aside, the beer itself is a bit disjointed in its structure: it has all the parts, but the transition between them seems unpolished. The first act, the malts, is probably the least polished; the second act, a is a bit incomplete and short … likely the result of poor character development; the third act, the bitters, is intense and while well-crafted, seems more intense because of the weak second act. Finally, with the last act, we get wowed with a tremendous finish. Creamy milk chocolate with a nice residual bitterness. There is romance and a wedding for sure to conclude. Perhaps not the best example of an Imperial Black IPA (there are few others in this blog, Dunham’s in particular, that I prefer), but at a whopping 10%, this is a ridiculously easy drinking beer that could quickly turn you into a Davy Crocket hat if you aren’t careful.
Stats: Black IPA. 10% ABV, 85 IBUs. Carleton-sur-Mer, Quebec.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation with huge diacetyls and an amazing milk-chocolate finish.
Purchased: Quebec (e.g. BroueHaHa)
Pairing Notes: Peppercorn steak; stilton cheese; chocolate-cinnamon soufflé.
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