Sunday, March 6, 2011

Left Hand Brewing Co. - Wake Up Dead Imperial Stout

Very excited to sample this brew!  A friend of mine had recommended Left Hand's "Fade to Black," and since I was not able to find it, I figured that this would be a close second.  I have had it in my fridge for a few weeks now and it has been taunting me while waiting for its own entry.  Here it goes.

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 6/12
The first aroma after pouring a nice 3-4oz. sample was the hops.  In fact, it was almost dominated by the hops, oddly enough.  It was a sweet smell, not unlike fresh alfalfa in the field or the sweetness that corn can attain.  Now I realize that those are grains and usually attributed to the malt, but I am allowing myself some leeway on this one.  In an Imperial Stout one would expect to the aroma dominated by the dark, roasted malt.  However, the smell does not come until much later - once the head had reduced by 1-2 cm.  Only after I had finished taking the photos was I able to smell the toasty scent of the malt really come through (and even then, only lightly).

Appearance 2/3
To steal a Sam Elliot line, an Imperial Stout should be "darker'n a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night."  This is not.  It is also where the diversion from the imperial stout style becomes grossly apparent.  This does have a great opaque color, but there are hints of dark copper toward the edges and especially if held to light.  Red?!  In an imperial stout!??!  Unheard of!!  Looking into this glass should be like staring into a cave; no hints of light and seemingly bottomless.  It fails in this respect and, unfortunately, is not the last time it will be accused of not being dark enough.
     Its head was a dark cream color (not the dark brown I had hoped for) and stayed present til about half way down my pint.  Very little lace, but it did cover the surface of the beer.  The head was thin and bubbly, not creamy.  On a side note, I would love to give this beer some extra credit points for its bottle art!  Really nice imagery.  I should have taken the red graphics on the outside of the bottle as a foreshadowing of things to come.  Note to self: next time look for imperial stouts that only have labels in monochrome.

Picture is my own.

Flavor 10/20
Please, let me first clarify by saying that this rating is not to indicate that this beer does not have any flavor!  It has a rich, dark flavor that I would rather drink that many more popular stouts.  That said, this is FAR from an imperial stout and is being deducted points for its vast differentiation of the style.  In opposition to the aroma, the malt made its appearance known first in the flavor.  Again, this brew is just not dark enough!  First impression?  Sweet like brown sugar or dark toffee or über-dark vanilla.  I even had to ask my wife to take a sample.  Was I missing the forest for the trees?  Was I paying too close attention to the minutia that I was missing the big picture?  No.  My wife is by no means a beer drinker and her (paraphrased) first words were, "Its really dark, but its sweet."  Trust me, if this beer was dark and bitter, her face would have let me know poste haste. In addition to the sweet "sugary" taste, there was also that of some darker fruits like figs or dates or dark cherries.  Something like that.  There were not fruit esters in the aroma, but a few were present (though complimentary) in the flavor.
     But where is the bitter?  Where is the toastyness?  Where is the coffee?  The hops are present (and earthy when they arrive), but this is an imperial stout and its bitterness should make me want to sit down with a slight grimace.  I expect to be knocked back by a bold(er) flavor and a high alcohol content.  This beer hints at those, yet gives me neither.  The hops are most present while exhaling during the "aftertaste."  This would be a ridiculously good brown ale and that thought keeps returning as I descend down the bottle.

Mouthfeel 3/5
Extremely light creamy texture - medium body overall.  I almost feel guilty calling it creamy at all.  It is a little too bubbly for stout.  There is a hint of warmth initially, but it gives way almost immediately.  The finish is cloying (along with the rest of the of the beer) and very sweet.  Insert disappointed sigh.

Overall Impression 8/10
This is by no means a bad beer.  In fact, I rather enjoyed the whole bottle, but it is far from what the style demands.  It is too sweet!  I want an imperial stout to dry my mouth and impress me with its big, bold, bitter, bad-boy flavor.  I want it to make me question if I should have ordered it when I look at its opacity/viscosity. I want it to suplex my tongue and put it in a choke hold until I tap for mercy.  I should probably feel the strange need to listen to Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black," while drinking it.

Look!  See!  Imperial Stout is supposed to be the blackest of black beers!!!
 Total: 29/50 Good
This score (the top "good" score given before being rated "very good") states that this beer "misses the mark on style and/pr minor flaws."  While I was worried about not seeing the forest for the trees, I found that my impressions were correct (a satisfying moment for a budding beer taster).  This beer, with modifications to the type of sweetness (nuts instead of fruit), would be a TREMENDOUS brown ale, given the characteristics in its flavor, mouthfeel, and appearance.  As it stands currently, it is an imperial stout with a lot of flavor, just not the right ones, nor were they strong enough.
     I would really like to see some darker malts involved and lots of them.  Of course, once you add all that malt, you are going to need a lot of good hops not only to balance the malt, but to give this beer the bitter kick that is, not only essential to its history, but true to its style.

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