Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bent River - Jameson Oak Irish Stout & Food Pairing

Ahhh, another sign of the changing seasons... Bent River's Jameson Oak Irish Stout.  One of the many seasonal hits they create (along with their Sweet Potato beer and Jingle Java) and I wasn't about to miss out on this!  I picked up a growler one day and I've been waiting too long to crack it open.  It's a different stout than their flagship Uncommon Stout, as this stout does not use any coffee.  However, it is aged in Jameson whiskey barrels for about a month (according to a gentleman I briefly spoke with on the phone) and does not overpower the drinker with the flavor of the liquor.  I've heard enough.  Let's pour!

Aroma 10/12
A very dark, pleasing roast is this beer's warm welcome.  It borders on being charred, but stops just short.  Oak is also abundant and gives an almost tobacco like feel to the brew.  Those two sensations, the darkness of the roast and the smooth oak, combined with a hint of creamy sweetness (likely contributed by oatmeal), provide a subterfuge that at times give this beer wafts of chocolate.  No whiskey smell at this time, but the beer still has some warming to do.

Appearance 2/3
Very little head appears and what does dies down soon to leave a Milky Way type swirl on the surface.  However, a lesser head (and often a smoother mouthfeel) can be expected due to the barrel aging process.  The beer is a very appropriate brown/black with nice espresso brown edges

Flavor 19/20
The first sensations are that dark, dark roast and a bit of the sweet, creamy nature of what I assume is oatmeal (or another grain that evokes similar results).  The creaminess quickly fades and is replaced a very noticeable oak flavor.  The roast and oak flavors seem pretty happy together but eventually decide to allow a light whiskey note to join the party as well.  It takes a while!  Only after holding the beer in the mouth does the whiskey show, and even then ever so slightly.  You may insert your own joke about alcohol and a resultant lack of punctuality.  There's even a slight spice that goes well with the oak & whiskey.  The finish is definitely where the whiskey shines brightest!  It's full whiskey flavor without the heat or any sort of overwhelming characteristic, but with a nice earthiness added.  Wait another second and you'll get that same, barely sour, taste that you would get right after a shot of whiskey.  Very cool!

Mouthfeel  5/5
I'm quite impressed with this brew.  I bought this over a week ago in the growler and it hasn't lost a step.  The body is right for a stout; heavy and rolls along the tongue.  The carbonation isn't as low as some other barrel-aged brews I've had.  In fact, I'd have a hard time telling that this is barrel-aged at all were it not for the distinct oak aroma & flavor.  This beer also does not have any warmth that is sometimes used (and sometimes abused) in craft beers that involve spirits.  The thick, smoothness when lightly swishing it around the mouth is a fantastic sensation and Bent River should get full props for that.

Overall Impression 8/10
Definitely impressed.  While the flavor should (and would) compliment each other, these seem to come together at different times and allow the drinker to appreciate each flavor (roast, oak, whiskey) separately.  Would I like them blended into a seamless mixture?  Probably.  But that by no means makes this beer a disappointment.  The mouthfeel shows plenty of carbonation in each sip, but still allows that rich, creamy brew to slide over the tongue like mercury.

Total 44/50
This beer is tasty, an insanely appropriate choice for St. Patrick's Day (if you're not sessionability is not your aim), and allows a very easy breakdown of the flavors.  For those looking to refine their palate and being able to put into words what is happening on your tongue, this beer would be an excellent choice.  The roast, oak, and whiskey flavors come together at times, but one ingredient always seems to have the upper hand.  I suppose, in a perfect world, I would've liked a more concentrated malt and a combination of the ingredients instead of their separation.  However, often times the flavor of the liquor can override anything it comes into contact with, so perhaps this is a blessing is disguise.

Bent River Jameson Oak Irish Stout & Kerrygold Aged Cheddar with Irish Whiskey
This is actually a white cheddar, but it does crumble slightly along the edges to support its "aged cheddar" packaging.  The cheese itself is smooth in the mouth, but still has that almost crystalline quality in its center that is not uncommon amongst nice aged cheddars.  When I say crystalline, I do mean crystals.  I'm not a cheese afficionado, but there is the tiniest crunch as if one has bit into a grain of sugar or salt (in texture only, not flavor).  Cheddar that has been aged longer will exhibit a slightly higher amount of this characteristic.  Its flavor alone is a nice, pungent cheddar that is sharp but not intensely so.  It gives that wonderful salty, creamy, almost herb-like flavor that is in a good cheddar.  This is good cheese and well worth the dollars spent to procure it.  However, I am not getting much of the Irish Whiskey said to be within it.  There is only the finest hint of it and it lies well behind the cheddar's saltiness.

To pair it with the beer is interesting, but ultimately futile.  The roast refuses to be dominated by the cheddar, and the beer's oak notes and the cheddar's saltiness appear in that order immediately before the swallow.  Neither item compliments the other, they simply come in waves of their own flavors depending on which happens to be contacting the tongue at that particular moment.  Oddly enough, in a pairing where both food items involve whiskey in their creation, the whiskey is completely absent.  In the beer it was subtle to begin with and it was barely present in the cheddar so this should not come as a surprise.

Now is the fact that these two "don't play nice" a detriment to their pairing.  Yes.  Can good things still come out of it?  Yes.  For example, I love the salty, smooth finish that the cheddar gives to the combination as a whole.  I also enjoy that the same flavor can be completely muted by the roasted, almost-charred malts of the beer.  Ultimately, each ingredient is excellent on its own, but together this pairing is less than ideal.  Now according to a nearly ancient article on BeerAdvocate nothing really pairs with stout.  However, my dedication to stouts (& cheddars for that matter) is so strong, that I must continue the hunt.  Anybody have any suggestions?  No, seriously.  Leave a comment for a good cheese pairing to go with a stout and I'll make it a point to include that pairing in a future review, provided I have access to said recommended items.  Oh and please don't recommend that Porter cheddar, as most varieties I've had (which does not include the previous link) have virtually no porter characteristics.  Godspeed and good luck!


  1. You should try the cheddar with a cider. I think you may just find a whole different experience.

    1. Agreed. I know there are things that cheddar goes with (apples seem an likely choice), but do you have any ideas as to what cheese a stout could go with? I'm no cheese expert, but I'm a bit at a loss.

      Thanks for that suggestion, I'll be sure to make sure I have some cider around next time!

    2. You know, I wrote this before I went to bed last night. And after I wrote it I was thinking of something that might match up nicely with the stout, of course, now I have no idea what it is.

    3. Try this...
      A turkey, bacon, and provolone on rye with arugula with mayo. I know it was a sammich that was going through my mind last night.

  2. It's wonderful beer. Once I tested this and found really well. Party time this beer comes really well to drink.

    1. Glad you could get stateside to give it a sample! Cheers!

  3. Gorgonzola, Bleu cheeses, Humboldt Fog, or Stilton. The real stinky stuff with veins. But for proper pairing, it has to be fresh oysters. It's like a party in your mouth, and everyone's invited.

    1. Sounds like one helluva party! Thanks for the suggestions!