Saturday, January 21, 2012

Big Muddy - Big Muddy Monster

The first time I tasted Big Muddy Monster beer was at the inaugural Midwest Brewers Fest (2012 date TBA), with Nik from ChicagoBeerGeeks & Wes from TGBOAT, and it was served up by none other than Big Muddy Brewmaster himself Chuck Stuhrenberg.  At that time we were told it was not widely available and we had good reason to believe him as I had never seen nor heard of it before.  Fast forward several months and I happen to see some bottles at Artale Wine Co. in Rockford, IL.  Regardless how these bottles passed me up in the middle of the state and went to one of the northernmost cities was not my concern.  All that mattered was that I finally found some and could give it a thorough review.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
Even when poured at a bit of a colder temperature than it should have, this beer was rife with pine scented hops, pineapples, and wood - in that order.  It's a rather sharp, aggressive hop smell that makes me think this beer might try to strip the enamel from my teeth (gladly!).  There is a malt sweetness behind it that compliments the sharp hops, yet adds a touch of chocolate.  I am a curious and a bit scared to see how this plays out on the palate.  That seemingly out of place malt does combine nicely with the touch of alcohol warmth.  As the beer warms, the malts balance out the sharp hops very well and almost threaten to take away their spotlight.

Appearance 3/3
It pours a nice enough brown, but appears much darker in the glass.  Only when held to light does any "brown" in this India-style Brown Ale become apparent.  The underside of the surface shows a cola brown, and the bottom revealed some nice shiny copper colors.  It's a god looking beer, but tries to hide it in all that darkness.  The head is remarkable.  It's not too big, not too small, but still generous.  It's a great tan shade for this brown ale, pours in two tones, lasts very well, and leaves great lacing.  What more could you want?  It shows great craftsmanship in the making of this ale.

Flavor  17/20
There is no time wasted beating around the bush!  This beer begins bold with such a darkly roasted brown malt that at first I thought it might be coffee!  It is made to seem even darker by incorporating a nice hop bitter with it.  This flavor continues into the backbone where it dims slightly, but also gives rise to a faint creamy sweetness.  It's an interesting flavor to find in a beer this shade and a bit unusual to find a creamy sweet flavor this far removed from when the beer first contacts the tongue.  A quick slurp really helps bring that flavor to the front.  The finish is the most robust portion of this beer!  All the hops have been playing nicely with the malts until this point, but in the finish the hops apparently decide to throw an impromptu party!  The finish starts much more bitter than the backbone and is full of grassy and resin notes.  It's quite tasty and a great send-off for this beer!  The aftertaste is still those dark-brown malts and a pleasant lingering bitter.  This beer finishes strong.

Mouthfeel 4/5
The mouthfeel does not contribute to the "monster" promised on this bottle, but that doesn't make it bad.  It's medium bodied at best, and enjoys a refreshing level of carbonation that foams slightly in the mouth which helps lend the beer a slightly silky quality.  There's no warmth except for the bit detected in the aroma.

Overall Impression 8/10
This is a nice big, brown ale.  The malts are dark and mean business, the aroma is balanced (after warming), the appearance is flawless, and it is more than a sound value for the price.  Not a huge "monster" beer, but definitely more than your average brown ale thanks to a very nice inclusion and presentation of some great hop varieties.

Total 42/50
When I first smelled this aroma, I thought I was in for a shock.  The hop presence was crazy and I was ready for a big, aggressive experience.  However, that's not what this beer is all about.  Sure, they want to incorporate a strong hop presence (hence the label art and "india-style" in the name), but the overall beer is more important to them and rightly so.  The hops do diminish as the beer warms, but that's when the beer truly comes into its own.  All those wonderful malts play their part, not just as a balancing act, but as a contributor to the beer.  Now if the beer had continued its strong hop presence, it certainly could have been considered more of a "monster," but that monster would've also been a one trick pony.

This treads an interesting border between styles.  I feel the "India-style" portion was right on!  Great hop presence, though not much to speak of regarding caramel sweetness.  The brown portion is certainly robust enough, especially with the presence of hops, but felt it was a bit lacking as far a sweetness or nuttiness is concerned.  Overall, as a brown this beer is phenomenal!  It says monster on the bottle, but don't let that lead you into thinking "imperial" or "full bodied."  Instead, it's a beer chuck-full of flavor (Brewmaster pun not intended), that remains very drinkable and thankfully not as heavy as some of the more "extreme" beers available.  I would not be afraid to introduce this to my more experienced and serious craft beer buddies.  If you've ever enjoyed a brown ale, but wanted a more serious version, this is it!

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