Yesterday found me in the Quad Cities all day with little to do. What better to fill my time than to review some local craft beer? I visited a pair of establishments, but today's review is for one of my old haunts, Blue Cat Brew Pub and their Marley's Blackstrap Stout. Never seen this brew around before and new, unsampled brews are just my style. Let's pour!
The aroma is not terribly complex, but what is present is extremely promising for the beer to come. It almost smells like bananas in chocolate fondue. I’m sure it’s actually a combination of some chocolate malts, a splendid dark roast, and loads of molasses, but there is more than a suggestion of chocolate covered bananas here. As the beer warms, the dark roast and molasses aromas combine and make for a darkly sweet, almost smokey tandem. There are a lot of things working in harmony!
Finally a beer from the tap that shows more than a disk of head that barely covers the top! This beer came with a thick, dark tan head that was about 1-2 fingers tall and creamy in appearance. It looks like I could rest the salt shaker on it! The longevity was surprising; it didn’t leave entirely until I drank it. The beer is black and completely opaque, not even allowing a bit of transparency along the edges when held up to a light.
The beer starts off with a hearty serving of the chocolate malts, their roast, and that wonderful blackstrap molasses. The flavor still suggests a dessert, but less so than the aroma. There seem to be other malts present as well, but they don’t seem to be adding a lot to the flavor profile. For example, the neutrality of crystal malt is shown sans the customary accompanying sweet flavors. The backbone really lets this beer shine by showing off gobs of molasses flavor, but without molasses’s sugary sweetness. The roast is now coming off as almost bitter, but is aided by some unhidden alcohol warmth, the bittersweet nature of blackstrap molasses, and likely some hops. The brewpub claims that the ABV is 5.6%, but I would’ve guessed higher especially when it comes to the finish. The alcohol warmth crescendos and plateaus when held in the mouth and upon swallowing becomes quite present along with a coffee’s bitter note and a lighter caramel flavor. The finish continues the coffee-like bitter, but rounds it off with roast flavors. Together the two hint at a smokiness.
The beer’s body is not the largest thing I’ve seen, especially for a stout, but it remains fair for the style and it helped along by a carbonation that, while just high for the style, foams ever so slightly in the mouth and makes this beer all the silkier and smoother – something I always like to see in a stout.
Overall Impression 7/10
This turned out to be a beer that is very difficult to describe accurately. The flavor doesn’t constantly change, but insists on continually shifting the flavor's emphasis to each and every ingredient. The aroma says “chocolate banana.” The flavor says “molasses…. Or is it warmth…. I mean, look at this roast and bitter combination… nah, just focus on the molasses.” There is lot going on in this beer! Its only weak link lies in the mouthfeel where the carbonation is simply too active for a stout.
This is a very tasty stout that I could sip on all night. Blackstrap molasses is a very unique ingredient to put in a stout and I’m very glad someone did. I was completely unfamiliar with blackstrap molasses until this beer and had to do a bit of research. Turns out it lends the exact flavors I found in this beer: a duller sweetness than a typical molasses and a bit of a bitter note as well. This showcasing of a single ingredient doesn’t make this the most complex beer in the world, but it does make it darn tasty and a neat way to experience and learn an ingredient. Much in the same way that Samuel Adams taught me about different varieties of hops with their Latitude 48 Deconstructed or any of the Mikkeller Single Hop series, this beer has shown me what a single ingredient can do.
I was most intrigued by this beer's ability to assume the flavors of a dessert (chocolate, molasses), but without the sweetness that we so often associate with those flavors. I'm not sure how they were separated. Balancing ingredients such as hops and a dark roast? It's extremely interesting and keeps this beer from becoming to sweet by maintaining more of its stout-style roots. Overall, I’d say it’s well worth buying, a smidge light-bodied for the style, and a unique, tasty presentation of a stout. Cheers to Blue Cat for this brew! It goes to show that you don’t have to be a super-experimental or national craftbrewer to successfully utilize a new and unusual ingredient. And that makes me excited.