Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Great Lake Brewing Company Blackout Stout - An Unbiased Review

Living here in Western Pennsylvania, I'm certainly not smack, dab in the middle of microbrew heaven (what, with the strange alcohol laws, beer distribution, etc.). Any quality microbrews that can be found here in my area are few and far between, unless you know all the "secret" places to look of course.

I try to always keep my mouth shut, my eyes and ears open, and my nose to the ground when I have something, microbrew-wise, in mind that I'm looking for. And when I find it, I'm sure to snap it up in a heartbeat knowing that it may not be there tomorrow.

One microbrew I've been on the lookout for since January is Great Lakes Brewing Company's "Blackout Stout" (Great Lakes Brewing Company carries the torch as far as Ohio microbreweries are concerned in my book). It's a seasonal Russian Imperial Stout only available in February and March each year. Now that's what I call a small window of opportunity! Anyway, I tried this one way back last year and have been anxiously awaiting its arrival again this year for an official review (plus it's a darn fine brew to boot!) Last week, I finally found Great Lakes Brewing's Blackout Stout at my trusty local bottle shop and quickly snatched up two 12 ouncers at $2.00 apiece. What a buy, I must say.

I wasted no time in getting them both home safely, and after about 30 minutes in the freezer, could wait no more for a long awaited reunion of chocolately, malty goodness!

Pouring the newly chilled bottle into my 16 oz. pub glass (non-chilled), I am greeted with a beverage of high viscosity. Low density in the category of transparency. Heck, who am I kidding? I couldn't see a thing when holding this up to the light. Motor oil! The head was completely non-existent. If your're used to a big frothy head in your beer, you might think something is wrong with this one. Just flat (I've made homebrews which rivaled the "flatness" of this beer but my version of course could not rival the flavor of this fine gem).

A quick once over whiff off the brim o' the mug gave a cocoa, chocolately buzz to the olfactory senses. Not all that alien to a Russian Imperial Stout of course. Everything seems in place so far.
Now the first mouthful, that is where this beverage separates itself from the rank amateurs in microbrewing.

Flavor abound here. Chocolate of course was prevalent, but also a very pleasant blend of molasses and what I'd describe as almost licorice. This really didn't give me any hint of a coffee tone at all. Very smooth, and for the 9% alcohol by volume rating, this has a very creamy texture to it. While the mouthful is slick and sticky at the same time and would classify as a dessert beer overall, this stout had an almost fluffiness to it and made me think that just 1 or 2 servings wouldn't fill me up like many other Russian Imperial Stouts I've tried. There's a real nice balance here amongst everything and the alcohol is very well hidden for the style, which could be dangerous. One thing I couldn't quite get my tastebuds to latch onto is the "bold hop flavor" which is advertised on the bottle label. Checking the Great Lakes Brewing Company website, this brew rates at 85 IBU's which is fairly substantial from a bitterness factor. The chocolately sweet tones just overwhelm I guess (which kind of goes against my original balanced assessment earlier. But hey I'm evaluating the beer here, not numbers on paper).

One of the things I really enjoy about this microbrewery is the designs they come up with for their bottle labels. They've got a standard theme with their logo and typefonts and such that are consistent for each microbrew style offered. But they've also included some real neat graphics for each beer. Great Lakes Blackout Stout includes a cool photo-type graphic of common folks holding candles and bottles of Blackout Stout while have a porch party during a....neighborhood power blackout. In fact, the story on the side of the bottle dedicates this brew to the 2003 blackout which put much of the Northeastern U.S. in the dark for several days. There's a nifty related background story to most of their brands names which I think is great. And "Blackout Stout's" story kind of lends to a sense of Americana nostalgia (tight knit neighborhoods where everyone came together on a hot summer's eve for a porch party). Beer with a total backbone I guess. Flavor and a real reason behind it.

So I guess I've gone on way too long here now. My bottom line is, if it's springtime where you are reading this right now, go out and try to find a bottle of Great Lakes Brewing Company's Blackout Stout before it's gone until next February. It's a well worthy in my book and lives up extremely well to the Russian Imperial Stout tag. This one is a distinctive winner and I'd give it a 8.25 out of 10.00 rating anytime. A true standout!

You can check out more reviews of new microbrews and fun microbrew and craft beer related info at Microbrew Review or My Squidoo Lens. Check out Summer Microbrew too!

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