Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Stouts: Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

A week after talking about a pair of very good stouts, I'm back with more.  And I'm not talking about these stouts.  Not this time, at least.  They are adorable, though, aren't they?

The stouts I want to talk about this week are a pair I've had before: the Left Hand Milk Stout (though never before in Nitro form) and Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout.  It's not like they're unusual or haven't been talked about by a million or so people on the internet before, but I don't care--they're both pretty great, and the Nitro looked so nice when poured that I just had to share some pictures.  Like the one above.

And take one look outside.  It is definitely still stout weather.

Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro

As I said above, this is a beer I've had before--the regular version, though, and never on draft.  This Nitro version is an attempt at recreating the draft experience, only in bottle form.

This isn't a new idea for stouts.  Guinness, for example, puts a ball-like widget in their cans to help create a creaminess reminiscent of their stout on tap.  But there's nothing in the Nitro bottle; Left Hand is calling it "craft beer's first nitrogen-bottled beer."  The key is to simply follow the instructions on the back of the bottle and pour the beer hard.

So there's a uniqueness to this stout, a curiosity factor that might help suck in some customers.  That can only go so far, though.  The beer itself has to be good.  And I've always liked Left Hand's regular Milk Stout.  It's got a really pleasant level of sweetness from lactose and residual sugars.  It's a different beast compared to the other stouts I've talked about recently; you have to like a little sweetness to get into this one.

The question I had with the Nitro was: How much better could the beer be in this form?

Milkshake or beer?
Well, it's better.  In a way.  The texture, that creaminess derived from the insertion of nitrogen into the bottle, is fantastic.  It's like drinking a milkshake or something; the head maintained (it obviously diminished from its initial state, taking up nearly the entire glass) until I reached the bottom of the glass, leaving in its wake a long, cream-colored coating with every sip.

Oh, and it's also kind of fun to pour the beer as Left Hand instructs: hard, flipping the bottle upside down and letting the beer cascade into the glass.

One thing I found interesting, though, is that the beer didn't taste as sweet as I remember, and I had a regular Milk Stout not long ago.  The roasty, coffee notes were more prominent, too.  That's not a bad thing--it was still quite delicious--but it is a change.  K, who isn't much of a beer drinker but has always been a big fan of the Milk Stout, noticed the difference as well and deemed it not as good as the original, creaminess be damned.  I'll just say that I like a lot of things about the regular and the Nitro, and I wouldn't hesitate to pick up more of this version again.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
I feel a little bad here.  With the unique aspects of the Nitro to talk about above, I feel I'm giving short shrift to one of my favorite stouts, Brooklyn's Black Chocolate.  There's no nitrogen in the bottle here, you pour the beer like you would any other stout--this is just a very tasty, very strong imperial stout (10% ABV).

I picked this beer up a couple months ago, in December when we were in New York City and had a little time to kill before catching our train back to Albany.  We stopped in Whole Foods, and maybe it was just coincidence (with the release date) or my own ignorance, but this struck me as the first time I'd seen the Black Chocolate Stout since moving to New York (it is around Albany now).  So I grabbed a single--one thing I like about buying beer at Whole Foods is that you don't have to make a full six-pack of mixed singles, and the price for any single is exactly 1/6 of the six-pack price--and tossed it in my backpack alongside some chocolatey treats for the nearly three-hour ride.

I'll admit: I was tempted (with the bottle opener attached to my fabulous Timbuk2 backpack) to crack open the Black Chocolate Stout on the train and make the ride home that much better.  Two problems: 1) they didn't turn the lights down on the train, even though it was around midnight, and 2) the beer was warm, and in that state I didn't think I'd enjoy it to its fullest.  And this is a beer that deserves to be enjoyed.

The high ABV is part of that.  I mean, the stouts I talked about last week had high alcohol contents, too, but this time the Black Chocolate Stout struck me as overly boozy, maybe too much so at first (as it warmed, it seemed to recede to the normal levels I'm used to with this beer).  That's just part of the decadent nature of this beer, which I feel is captured nicely through the label design.  It just looks like a classy beer, doesn't it?

The other aspect of the Black Chocolate Stout's decadent nature comes from the chocolate mentioned in its name.  Interestingly, the chocolate here comes entirely from the malts used; there's no actual chocolate brewed into the beer.  The flavor difference between this and the Left Hand Milk Stout is comparable to the difference between dark chocolate and milk chocolate.  I mean, I'm happy with both, but I certainly know some people who are much more drawn to the richness and bitterness of dark chocolate.  And when that flavor is combined with a little bit of booziness and a really pleasant level of coffee notes, you've got yourself a serious stout. 

In other words, it's best to keep one of each of these beers at the ready--one for when you're in the mood for sweetness, one for when you're in the mood for richness and decadence.  Trust me, it's a good plan.
craft beer's first nitrogen bottled beer

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