Brooklyn Brewery says:
“This is the famous Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, our award-winning rendition of the Imperial Stout style, once made exclusively for Catherine the Great. We use three mashes to brew each batch of this beer, achieving a luscious deep dark chocolate flavor through a blend of specially roasted malts. We brew it every year for the winter season. It is delicious when newly bottled, but also ages beautifully for years.”
Ryan’s been itching to crack into these bottles of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout for a while. Five years, as a matter of fact. Let’s take a look at how kind time has been (or hasn’t been) to this offering from Brooklyn:
Karl: It’s not often that I come into a beer tasting with absolutely no context to a brewery, let alone a beer, but truth be told I haven’t drank much Brooklyn at all. All due respect to Garrett Oliver, I just don’t gravitate towards their beers; not for a lack of interest, but more that whenever I see one of them around, I always seem to find something I’m just a little bit more interested in trying.
That said, something like that comes in handy because I had no idea what we were getting into with the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. I’ve seen it on shelves around Chicago for years, but never grabbed it — something I’m glad Ryan had the forethought of doing since 2009. We found a lot of variety year-to-year with this vertical, a welcome change to the simple consistency of our last Russian Imperial Stout vertical, another five-year endeavor from Stone.
With that background, let’s look at this year by year, starting with…
– 2009/2010 –
K: I drink from oldest to newest during a vertical, so it makes sense to describe them in the same manner. Accordingly, I wasn’t quite sure where the progression to modern-day was going to take us, so my lack of expectations led me to think that maybe four years is all you can do with chocolate in a beer. ‘Cuz there weren’t none here — just a whole bunch of raisins, rum and an unsubtle smack of tobacco, perhaps as acrid as cigarette smoke.
The finish was slightly chalky with baker’s chocolate, which was as far as I got into anything resembling the creamy, thick candy-bar taste I expected. No worries, though — this beer was complex, interesting, quite rich and not thin-bodied as many old stouts tend to become.
R: The eldest bottle of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout in our vertical certainly had aged some, but not for the worse. The namesake chocolate was still present, however it was rather muted. While the nose gave off subtle hints of cocoa nibs, the body was dry with touches of red grapes, cocoa powder and a bit of cherry cola. Bakers chocolate and liquid smoke rounded out the finish.
This was far more complex than I expected and definitely set the pace for the remainder of the vertical.
– 2010/2011 –
K: Despite four years in the bottle, this beer still had some carbonation to speak of, pouring with a decent pillowy head that lingered for a good amount of time. The raisin has backed off here, transitioning to a fig flavor and the smoke I noticed strongly in the ’09 was just beginning to make its presence known, though the lingering roasted notes of the malt cover it up mostly.
The big news here is capital-C Chocolate, in droves over the ’09. As in, it’s actually there. There’s some noticeable burn to the alcohol, kindly making you aware of the 10% it’s delivering you.
R: Strangely I did not get as much chocolate in the 2010 as I had the 2009, although there wasn’t much to speak of so it’s not that surprising. I did, however, pick up on plenty of dark fruit flavors: raisins, figs, dates and plums. There was a certain biscuit-y-ness to the 2010 as well reminiscent of a dry English muffin.
Two samples in and this beer is showing some range, which is a nice change of pace compared to some of the other vertical’s we’ve done.
– 2011/2012 –
K: The wonders of chemistry are on full display in many of our vertical “midpoint,” and the Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout continues the trend. Big, bubbly head of foam showcases a minimal aroma of alcohol, and the things I liked about the ’10 are ramped down in the ’11. Still smoky, minimally chocolatey (it seems to be on a bit of a roller-coaster with these year-to-year peaks and valleys) and as it opens up the chocolate drops off further and some roasty coffee-like complexity begins to kick in.
This is the roastiest of the 5 years, so if that appeals to you, then be aware. I did note that this year had some strange off-flavors, including chemical cleanser for some reason, which was weird but minimal.
R: Odd, I didn’t catch the same off flavors but I did pick up on the roastiness about mid-sip and in the finish. The coffee-like flavor added a nice touch of complexity to the ever-present chocolate flavors, taking the form of a creamy milk candy bar or a mouthful of Milk Duds this time around. I picked up a little hazelnut too, which played well with roasted coffee flavor.
So far each year has been just different enough to be enjoyable on its own all while adding to the big-picture of this vertical tasting.
– 2012/2013 –
K: My notes for this year read “Bigger chocolate!” so you can tell I was keeping track of exactly how much promise the beer was following through on. By this time I’m starting to realize that if you want a big, rich, mug of chocolate with some booze to back it up, you’re going to be disappointed by this beer overall, as it’s a pretty middle-of-the-road RIS compared to what I’m used to. That said, it doesn’t try to blow the back of your head off with any of it, which I personally appreciate.
This year is the most straightforward and chocolatey beer, so it seems that it takes just a year to get to a place where the more aggressive RIS flavors have backed off. If you want complexity, however, you’re going to be looking pretty hard for it in the 2012.
R: Beer names can be deceiving. While one would expect gigantically bold chocolate flavors in a Russian Imperial Stout whose name includes the word Chocolate this one isn’t over the top — which I like. Yes, there is chocolate, but it’s not one-note — as we’ve seen throughout this vertical.
At a year old any alcohol heat has backed off just enough to allow the chocolate flavors to shine. From the rich milk chocolate on the front end to the chocolate mousse cake in the finish. I also noted there was, “dancing carbonation,” so this one was definitely lively.
– 2013/2014 –
K: In cellaring, I find the freshest of many RIS to be so strong and sharp as to be distracting, especially when put up against other years of its own kind. The brand-new Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout offering fits that profile, but only slightly — we’re not talking about massive bittering hops or morning-espresso strength malts here. What we’ve got here is an unremarkable RIS where nuttiness overwhelms the chocolate.
If I were being generous, I’d say it’s the most candy-bar-esque and to envision biting into a Krackle, but it doesn’t quite rise to those heights. Those peanut/walnut flavors back off after it opens up, allowing some of the chocolatiness rise to the forefront.
R: I can’t say I walked away as underwhelmed as you did, Karl, with the fresh pour of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been drinking this beer for years and knew what to expect. Perspective.
You’re right, it’s not all that hoppy — which is perfectly acceptable — but there was plenty of chocolate. Mocha greets the nose and smooth milk chocolate serenades the palate. There are notes of toast and maybe molasses and maybe even a little fruit with a finish similar to a hot cocoa with marshmallows.
– Overall Impressions –
K: Even though the above may give you the impression that I wasn’t blown away by the Brooklyn Black Chocolate, I do think it’s a good gateway-cellarable beer. You don’t need to hang onto a full array of large-format bombers year over year, just some 12 oz. bottles, which are easier to set aside and hide for a while. Moreover, the changes between the years are noticeable enough to allow rookie cellar tasters to notice the chemistry making adjustments as it ages and oxidizes.
R: Completely agree, across the board, with Karl’s assessment. This is a very approachable beer to begin with and certainly has a high enough ABV to make a great candidate for the cellar. Beyond that, this beer is very easy to find and it’s reasonably priced. Where else are you going to find a 4-pack of a Russian Imperial Stout for $7.99? Sometimes you’re lucky to find a bomber for that cheap. Those two reasons alone (availability and price) were what initial led me to stash this away for a five-year vertical and I’m certainly glad I did. It was refreshing to work our way through a five-year vertical of a beer that had a good amount of depth and did change, for the better more often than not.