Friday, April 1, 2011

Lakefront Brewery - Fuel Cafe Coffee Stout

Time to give some credit to a smaller brewery that is definitely doing its part to make me some tasty beer.  This review is for Lakefront Brewery based out of sunny Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I came upon this brewery in my research for breweries to which I would  like to roadtrip.  One problem - I had not yet sampled its beer.  I reasoned that I should know first what I am getting into and made it part of a "variety pack" sixer at my local establishment.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 10/12
Quite a few things going on here!  They label this as a coffee stout, but the aroma is primarily a chocolate-coffee blend (I suppose that would be a "mocha").  The malt is present also with a deep roasty aroma that might even be a bit burnt.  I had trouble discerning any hops.  I know that stouts are not known for a strong hop presence, but they do depend on them to balance out all the dark, inherently sweet malt that they use.  I did not even get a hint of hops in this.

Appearance 3/3
It looks like a stout should - opaque, black, and a nice tan head.  It pours thick into the glass and produces a moderate-sized head, which dissipates quickly.  When present, the head is fantastic!  It is like a light, whipped chocolate whose flavors meld into bitter coffee.  What a great way to start a beer! EBC is right where it should be, around a 70+.

Picture is my own.

Flavor 13/20
While this score does not reflect a beer that is lacking in flavor and technical merit, it does indicate a beer that is not brewed to style.  The aroma, as it is time and time again, is an accurate foreshadowing of the flavor beneath it.  The sweet malt is first to be noticed, with its dark, smoky flavors.  Soon after comes a strong chocolate sweetness which makes up the majority of the palate.  Holding the beer in the mouth, it does not vary much: you get the malt up front and the chocolate sweetness.  To  Fuel Cafe's credit the two flavors do blend very well together and you get a dark, sweet, malty sensation.  However, this is a coffee stout and unfortunately the coffee does not make itself known until the finish.  At first I wanted to classify it as "subtle" in its coffee flavor, but I now believe that to be the dark (a bit burnt) malt blending with the chocolate.  There is very little in the way of a bitter aftertaste.  In fact, this is one of the cleanest finishing stouts (if such a thing is possible) I have ever had.

Mouthfeel 3/5
A bit light in the body for a stout.  The carbonation was also a little high for the style, but turned more appropriate as the pint continued.  No warmth or creaminess of which to speak.

Overall Impression 7/10
In summary, a darn tasty beer that I would not mind picking up again.  The aroma was exciting as was the appearance and the pour.  However, the flavor and mouthfeel were as if they were from a different beer.  With a bit more bitter (coffee flavor or hops for balance), this could be a superior coffee stout.  As it stands, it is closer to a milk stout or an aggressive winter brew without the warmth and spices.

Total 36/50 (Very Good)
This beer is in the middle of several styles and that is the only thing holding it back.  The aroma and head are phenomenal!  The taste is simply too sweet for a true coffee stout.  This brings up an argument I have with myself - "Where is the line drawn between stylistic accuracy with one's own added nuances and plain old going off on your own?"  I like to think that a strong base in the intended style is key to success.  You have to build a good lamp before you can build a chandelier.  I suppose the same dedication to fundamental excellence (e.g. Larry Bird) is what can also contribute to an excellent beer.  This one, while definitely adding their own twist, strayed just a bit too far from the path.  It is a fine line to tread and I would be excited to try their other offerings.  After all, who does not approve of experimentation and variation in their craft brews?

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