We used recipe details from a number of period sources, putting together a slightly modernized version, following tradition as much as possible. Berghoff Stock Ale uses the classic combination of lager, caramel and black malts along with some Belgian brewer’s brown sugar to lighten the body a little to improve drinkability. It is then hopped up to a respectably high level with the original American hop, Cluster. Finally, East Kent Goldings and Hallertau Hersbrucker hops give it a unique old-school aroma. Fermentation is done with an ale yeast and in the presence of toasted oak, which adds a little soft vanilla aroma and a nice, crisp, slightly tannic finish.
*This beer was provided by the brewer for the purpose of a review.
Ryan: I find the Stock Ale or Old Ale style to be an acquired taste. There aren’t a ton of examples on store shelves and, from my experience, either you like ’em or you don’t.
Founders brews one, Curmudgeon, which I find to be too…everything fresh. Kuhnhenn has its Fourth Dementia, which is remarkably easy-drinking making it atypical of the style — if you ask me. And then there’s North Coast’s Old Stock Ale, which I’m building both a ten-year and twenty-year vertical of but find it a bit harsh when drank fresh.
The style is traditionally big; a big malt bill and a big hop profile making for an intense and complex beer. So why is Berghoff brewing one? We wrote about their initial rollout last year and found their beers, overall, to be solid if not unspectacular. This looks to be the brewery’s foray into spectacular — and it’s fairly successful.
When held up to a light, the Berghoff Oak-Aged Stock Ale, which was fermented with toasted oak, appears tea-like in color. An aggressive pour produces a one to two-inch, eggshell colored head, which recedes and leaves a decent bit of lacing in its wake.
The nose gives off somewhat hard-to-pinpoint aromas of vanilla beans, peanut brittle and honey-lemon tea. The body is reasonable with a decent amount of carbonation, towing along initial flavors of caramel, toffee and pecans. Allow it warm a bit and you’ll catch some ribbon candy, dried plums, blackberries and brown sugar. It’s sweet but not too sweet.
A slow alcohol burn is the precursor to a dry, red wine finish.
There’s a certain earthiness to this beer; it’s a tad herbal too. At one point I swear I could smell sawdust, but it wasn’t the least bit unappetizing.
This is not an easy style to make drinkable but Berghoff pulls it off. This Stock Ale is complex but not intimidating. And if you’re looking to pair it with something I’d suggest an oatmeal raisin cookie. It did the trick for me.
Karl: I will say this about the Berghoff’s oak-aged stock ale — I give them big points for attempting something so aggressive, so different, and so seemingly hard to get right even when you have your own brewery. Putting together a recipe which involves wood aging and passing it off to a contract brewery seems even crazier. (As is the case with all current Berghoff beers, this too is brewed by at Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin.)
And besides: Who the hell even makes a stock ale or an old ale these days? Either Team Berghoff is on the bleeding edge of The Next Big Trend or someone took a real flier on a obscure and (like Ryan said above) divisive style.
Again: Points for doing something seriously unexpected.
I only wish I could say I liked it, too.
So what’s wrong here? It’s certainly not that there’s zero thought behind it — Berghoff rolled these out with the names of Randy Mosher and John Hannafan in the press release and listed them as the folks who came up with the recipe here. Is it just a matter of followthrough that makes this unpalatable to me?
Deep nut brown with a tinge of amber, the nose is malt, raisin, dates, bready malt, caramelized sugar, and all of this is fine. But then you take a sip and you get this very aggressive and harsh wave of harsh, almost fiery alcohol flavor that brutally overpowers any of the bready, caramelly, nutty sweet flavors from the beer. Only hints of vanilla linger from the “toasted oak” infusion.
And oh, my, the aftertaste adds insult to injury. You almost want to drink this faster because it’ll cover up the foul unfriendly bitterness on the finish of the last sip, but then you’ve just drank more of this. It’s a lose-lose. I don’t think it’s just because I’m not a massive fan of the style, but I was not rushing to finish this beer.
Maybe it was the 10% abv that slowed me down, but I think it was more likely that the entirety of the beer itself just didn’t do anything for me. The body is light and easy drinking for the style, which helps. It’s creamy and a little sticky, but otherwise doesn’t pour like motor oil or flow like water.
I’ve gotta ask: How exactly was this “oak aged” as this beer is described on the front of the label? To me, that implies that this has sat around in some barrels somewhere, but from everything I can discern tells me otherwise. The description plays a little loose with the language, describing this as fermented “in the presence of toasted oak” which means what, exactly? Wood chips in the fermenter?
I mean, if you’re going to do that, fine — just please don’t imply you’re doing something you’re not. Might as well call this “beechwood aged” otherwise. Either way, whatever they did didn’t do much to make this much more palatable, I’m sure.
To conclude: I’ve actually come around to some of the core Berghoff offerings, and it’s become a pleasure to see them increasingly available. I’ll stick to the Dortwunder and the Reppin’ Red, thanks.