“Special Double Cream Stout derives its name from its smooth, creamy texture, not the ingredients. Completely dairy-free, this stout blends eight different specialty malts to yield a remarkable depth of flavor. With only a touch of burnt notes, Special Double Cream Stout focuses on the softer, cocoa & espresso-like aspects of roasted malt.”
(Editor’s Note: We began this “Adventure’s in CellarSitting” series when we began the site, to chronicle what happens to some of the most popular double IPA’s available when you cellar them. On purpose. Our hope was to prove that while, yes they are best when drank fresh, they can still taste pretty damn good with a few years on them. Past experiments include: Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree, Founders Devil Dancer and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.
This is our first attempt to step out of the taboo world of cellaring double IPA’s and in to the taboo world of cellaring a stout. Not an imperial stout, mind you, but a basic, run-of-the-mill stout. Below are the tasting notes for Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout fresh and after one year, two years, three years and four years in the cellar.)
Karl: I have to admit, I was a little surprised when I saw Ryan take Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout out of the fridge and announce it as one of our cellar experiments. I was equally surprised when I learned about how into this beer Andrew was. And maybe it’s just because I’m a little spoiled by my access to some Michigan beers but this particular Bells offering never jumped out at me. In fact, I had one sitting in my fridge nearly all winter, only opened on recent a Sunday night where I had regrettably failed to do any other beer shopping.
With that in mind, it was interesting to re-inspect my thoughts on a beer that I really hadn’t ever considered too heavily before. It was a fine beer when I had it, nothing jumped out at me too much but perhaps I just didn’t take the time to notice. Or was I right to begin with?
Make no mistake, this is a flavorful, well crafted beer. Cream stouts aren’t my particularly favorite style of brewing, but I know enough to say that this beer is a fine example of the genre. Pouring pitch black with a light head and very little lacing, there’s some nice subtle roasted flavors, an incredibly balanced profile and for being a “double” anything it’s pretty light bodied.
Having recently tried the Left Hand Nitro in a bottle that everyone was praising, it struck me that the Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout was exactly what Left Hand was trying to do. The beer is silky, almost buttery smooth with zero aftertaste, letting the body of the cream stout serve as an almost nitrogen smoothness. It’s a rather restrained beer, a calm beer, an afternoon sipper and one that would be undoubtedly better on cask. I think the finer points might shine through in that presentation. This is fine, but still nothing I’m particularly excited about.
Ryan: So this is an interesting choice on Andrew’s part; a cream-y, coffee-forward stout. What is our hope with this particular beersperiment? Well, we’re not quite sure. There wasn’t a whole lot of science put in to it. Andrew brought by a six-pack and said, “let’s cellar this and see what happens.” So, here we are.
Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout has always had a soft spot in my heart. It was one of the first Bell’s beers I tried and I couldn’t get enough of it. And I, for one, am eager to see what some time in the depths will do to this beer.
When cracked fresh, you have a beer that exudes all things fall and winter; with the aroma of s’mores roasting over a campfire and a cappuccino-like, almost frothy body.
Poured in to a pint glass, this stout gives off warming scents of marshmallow, graham cracker and milk chocolate. Take a sip and you’ll be greeted by roasted coffee throughout with touches of vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg – finished off by a touch of coffee creamer.
The body is creamy, frothy and very smooth. I’ll fall in line with Karl here and agree to his milk stout comparisons.
Fresh, this is a world-class stout. Hopefully we don’t screw it up too much by cellaring it.
Andrew: I think I let out an audible gasp when Ryan took this one out of the fridge…so excited to do this experiment.
I had Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout on CASK at Church Key in Washington, DC last year and found it to be one of the best beers I had ever had, so to say I was looking forward to a cellaring experiment would be an understatement.
Fresh, this is an incredibly smooth but robust beer that finishes clean and dry. Tons of coffee, molasses and roasted malts dominate this beer, but it’s the creaminess that really drives it home for me.
Ryan: We weren’t anticipating (or at least I wasn’t) big changes in year one with this cellaring experiment. We’ve found, through past trial and error, that there isn’t a huge drop-off in the first year of cellaring. The bigger changes tend to come between years two and four. That being said, there were some interesting changes that took place in the Special Double Cream Stout after only a year in the basement.
The milk stout comparisons we drew in the fresh tasting come more into play after a year in the cellar. The initial flavors of marshmallow and s’mores have given way to fresh brewed coffee with creamer — poured by a heavy hand.
In fact, the nose is chalked full of coffee creamer and milk sugar. The body is incredibly creamy too, very milk stout-ish, with an espresso first act, a good dose of chocolate in the second act with — perhaps — a bit of chocolate covered cherries in the third.
This beer finishes dark and intriguing with loads of bakers chocolate and a touch of molasses rounding things out.
One year in and I’m that much more excited to see how this beer continues to develop over time.
Karl: If you were to crack this experiment open without knowing what it was, you’d be hard pressed to recognize it as any sort of stout — in fact you might not be blamed if you thought it was aged in wine casks because this beer has turned chock full of red grapes.
Lightly tart and fruity, and considerably thinner, there are acidic notes of cranberry juice floating around in here, making this one of the biggest aging surprises I think we’ve come across.
A near-total transformation and quite curious…but I think I’d still recommend cracking into this one while fresh.
Andrew: I was really in to this beer fresh, and I’m still really in to it after a year for totally different reasons.
Karl nailed it on the head — grapes. Where in the world did those come from? While I also picked up the creaminess that Ryan found, and some burnt marshmallows on the front end, I was intrigued by the grapes in the nose and the quite powerful red grape on the back-end of this beer.
So maybe my attraction to this beer isn’t all just the flavor, just how dramatic the change was. Within a year this has turned into an almost unrecognizable Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout. But I still like it and am that much more interested to see what happens after two, three or four years.
Karl: For starters, two years in the bottle has made this beer smell great. Just awesome — coffee and campfire and smoke and rum raisin ice cream (maybe some cigarette in there too, strangely). There’s even still some head to speak of; a little retention on the pour shows a mocha touch of foam over an espresso-brown beer.
Also notable is the fact that unlike other cellared Bell’s beers we’ve seen (Batch 9,000, Batch 10,000 and Eccentric Ale 2008) — and a tasting of this very beer last year — there wasn’t that odd flavor of grapes. We actually both agreed before cracking this open that “we know what this is gonna taste like” with that expectation, but I’m happily surprised that this isn’t the case with this beer.
Instead we get stone fruits like plum, pear, and maybe a touch of hearty port wine; nutty bakers chocolate and a whiff of smoke on the finish. More raisin flavors emerge as this warms, as well as a definite note of sweet white wine — maybe a Riesling or something on the finish. This gets thinner as it warms, but not in a terrible way, and some small off-flavors and age-funk at the finish adds a small unfavorable note to an otherwise really fun aged beer.
If you find this at the back of your cellar, I advise you to crack one open. I’m not sure how much longer this 6ish-ABV beer has to live in the bottle, but it sure is fun now.
Ryan: I would happily put money on it, Karl, that NO ONE has this in the back of their cellar right now — which is the whole point of this series, cellar what is traditionally not cellared. Also, sometimes when I read our reviews I wonder if we were drinking the same beer. Plum? Pear? White wine? I got none of the above.
This beer was very one-note for me. Not in a bad way, mind you, but still fairly one-dimensional. The nose on the Special Double Cream Stout was all coffee; a mix of freshly brewed espresso and hours old coffee grounds. The flavors were in-line with the aroma with robust coffee flavors dominating throughout and lingering smokiness that hung in the background.
The body was a tad frothy, for lack of a better term, and clung to the creaminess that makes a fresh pour so appetizing.
This is kind of a fun direction this beer is headed. It’s all coffee now, but what will year three hold? And will that signature grape flavor — which I don’t consider “off” but just something I equate with cellared Bell’s beers — make a re-appearance? I guess only time will tell.
Ryan: For those of you who are just joining us, yes we know we probably shouldn’t be cellaring this beer. Its ABV is low-ish which doesn’t make it a prime candidate for the cellar. However this Adventures in CellarSitting series (scroll up for more details) was built on the premise of cellaring beers that aren’t normally cellared. So here we are, with a three-year-old bottle of Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout.
And mark it down: year three was the year Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout got weird. It wasn’t a good weird or a bad weird — but it was most definitely weird.
The nose was fairly predictable with a whiff of coffee creamer, coffee beans, sticky peanut brittle and that famed Bell’s red grape. I say famed because in many of our reviews of cellared Bell’s beer we pick up that now synonymous red grape aroma.
There was nothing predictable, however, once you take a sip.
Up first is cocoa powder followed by the aforementioned red grapes, cranberries and a gob of peanut butter. Then it gets a little weird. Green olives weird. No joke. As a kid I used to eat them by the handful and my salivary glands would get going at the first smell of the salty brine. The same thing happened while sipping this beer. The pristine saltiness was then washed away by red pepper flake and cracked black pepper near the finish.
Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout certainly took a turn for the different. So much so that I let it sit for a while to let it warm a bit. When I came back to it I found a less volatile beer that settled into a creamy, frothy and lightly coffee-flavored stout that finished with a nice kiss of semi-sweet chocolate.
While this year-three sampling started out a little rough it finished nicely. Once this beer calmed down and settled into the glass it became a familiar yet toned-down version of a fresh Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout.
Ryan: For those unfamiliar with our “Adventures in Cellarsitting” series or for those wondering who thought it would be a good idea to cellar a 6.1% ABV cream stout, allow me to give you the short history. First, this series is reserved for dabbling in cellared beers that aren’t traditionally cellared — like cream stouts and beers that are 6.1% ABV. Secondly, Andrew. It was his call to stash the beer. At the time, I figured — why not. I assumed it wouldn’t have legs and would peter out after a year or two.
But it hasn’t. And, believe it or not, it still hasn’t.
Skepticism aside, this beer is by no means amazing. But it also isn’t that bad. And it’s surprisingly consistent.
Muted but noticeable notes of espresso and heavy cream on the nose set the table for a coffee-forward beer with hints of rich chocolate but short on the cream.
Brownie batter, of all things leads, the way on the palate followed by varying degrees of coffee. First up is iced coffee –with one too many sugars and a heavy-handed pour of half-and-half — followed by french roast mid-sip and an acidic home-roasted coffee bean finish.
Overall this beer was surprisingly good given my low expectations. I’m not sure if this is validation for the pick or a referendum to cellar it but you could make worse beer cellaring decisions, I suppose.