“Are you ‘The Guys?!’”
We sheepishly grinned and responded, “that’s us,” at Cliff Eihnorn, co-owner of the Twisted Spoke in Chicago, approached us from behind the bar. A week ago we didn’t know Cliff. We knew his bar, quite well actually, but we didn’t know him. So how did we get from being total strangers to sharing a three year vertical with the guy? Well it’s kind of a long story, you see my cousin’s barber works down the street fro…who am I kidding – it was through Twitter.
After seeing they had Blackout Stout on tap we jokingly responded that we would be by at some point and might smuggle in a bottle of ’09 from the cellar for a side-by-side comparison. Cliff, although we didn’t know it was him at the time, shot back with, “Let me know when and I’ll add an ’07 for a proper vertical.”
I haven’t had a view of such Stout-y Richness since Ryan dragged out the full growler of KBS or our trip to the Sheffield’s Goose Island event where we completely overdosed on Bourbon County Stout. Before us was practically a tic-tac-toe board of Blackout Stout ranging from ‘07 to fresh on draft, and there would be no cat’s game to be had. We all won.
We kicked the whole thing off with a facefull of fresh draft Blackout. If you ever happen to misplace your tongue and nose and need to tell a fresh Blackout from an aged one, just give it a swirl around the glass. The ‘10, as evidenced by the photos, laces the hell out of the side of the glass with a healthy layer of milk-chocolate tan foam. It also kept its head the longest, but all three beers very quickly burned back to pure black stout darkness.
In terms of taste, the ‘10 starts off with a medium level of bitterness with a smell of coffee, which backs off quickly to a lingering flavor of raisin. The nose matched the flavor but the scent backed off as quickly as the head of the beer, leaving nothing but taste behind. The body isn’t huge, which was the most surprising part of this stout – GLBC brews heavy beers, and maybe they’re saving all their syrupy thickness for Nosferatu, but the Blackout was damned light for a stout, and you could quite easily pound down a couple with no real effort. More on that shortly.
Also: A benefit of doing a vertical at a restaurant/bar with near endless glassware? No reusing glasses, no rinsing, just row after row of beer pours. The not-immediately-obvious benefit to this, is that we didn’t have to finish off each year before we moved onto the next. We got a good handle on each year, then could go back and dance from year to year to do a real palate head-to-head. This will prove to have been a gamechanger in this vertical, as well as in verticals to follow, I guarantee.
The ‘09, served from a bottle, had (as mentioned) lighter lacing that dissipates quickly, the nose has more raisin and less coffee. There was also a certain yeastyness or bready quality to the scent of the ‘09 stout that was absent from the fresh draft selection. The “wow” moment to the ‘09 was in the body – if the fresh was lighter than I had expected, a year of age burned off an amazing amount of heft. The lightness of the beer mixed with a light carbonation and a warmer flavor added up to a more complex and surprising result.
Skipping forward to the ‘07 (anyone got an ‘08? Should have asked before we did this, shouldn’t we have?) we have a similar progression in body and flavor. The upfront coffee and raisin flavors from the fresh have disappeared and the heft of the beer has gotten (if you can believe it) even lighter. All that remains is a touch of booze and a liquor-like burn on the palate, a certain sense of caramel emerging after a short amount of time, and a definite dryness. It’s not lip-smackingly, bone-desert dry, but very noticeable after the relative fluidity of the prior two Blackouts.
At this point we began dancing back around the remains of the three years. With a few more minutes to develop and a good headful of stout impressions to bounce off my palate, returning to the ‘10 directly from the ‘07 made the fresh Blackout seem downright syrupy. The sharpness was glaringly different and you could definitely tell there was some hops bitterness back there as well, something missing from the ‘09 or the ‘07. All told, there were some healthy differences between all three years.
I always like to crown a winner when we do these Faceoff posts and the Vertical comparisons. My linear brain always prefers a straight line as opposed to any ambiguousness and so while we sat at the bar I spent a good few minutes trying to hammer out in my brain exactly which I preferred more. Did I like the fresh, draft version? Or did I like the complexity and change of the ‘09? The ‘07 was out of the running but I briefly agonized over the internal conflict - and then Cliff broke my brain wide open with the zen and equanimity of a beer professional.
He saw my puzzlement and said, “Well, why do you have to decide?” Well, shit – he’s right! Why indeed? Why does there have to be a clear winner and a loser? Why do I have to choose and have an absolute, 100% right-or-wrong choice in my mind? All this is so subjective anyways – so what’s the point to delineating a one, two, and a three? Like I said – very zen.
Therefore, I will take that wisdom and leave you with this: The changes are as described. I definitely enjoyed the ‘10 and the ‘09. They both have their appeal, and between the two they’re very different beers. They’re both good. And that’s that.