Monday, July 22, 2013

Ska - Vernal Minthe

Some people simply don't drink stout in the summertime.  I may understand that reasoning after running a race, having done yardwork, or otherwise spending all day in the sun, but I fail to see the problem with a delicious stout simply because of a little heat wave.  A heat wave that has been mercilessly bashing the Midwest and East Coast with a fury of an axe-wielding Viking berserker.  Besides, Ska's Vernal Minthe even has the word "vernal" in the title meaning "1. of, relating to, or occurring in the spring. 2. fresh or new like the spring."  So they clearly don't want me to fall into the trap of only drinking beer styles during certain seasons, right?  Guys?

Oh, who cares when you drink a particular style!  I like stouts.  A lot.  I might knock over my own mother to get one (sorry, mom).  In case you couldn't guess today's review is for Ska's minty experiment in the stout world.  I'll tell you, they must be doing something right because I essentially have to battle my wife in a no-holds-barred, Jackie-Chan-meets-Jason Bourne-style battle, just for one of these cans every time I bring them in the house.  Let's pour!

Some good pulp-like can art.

Aroma 10/12
Ever open a package of Girl Scouts' Thin Mints cookies?  Of course you have.  They're legalized crack.  Because you have opened one of those silver-wrapped, cylindrical diet wreckers, you can also imagine what this beer smells like.  Roasted malt is present first, but is quickly overwhelmed by the peppermint and spearmint.  The result is a cooling, menthol minty-ness that also manages to incorporate some darker cocoa aromas.  The mint cooling is the primary aroma, but it shows a healthy promise for the beer beneath it.

Appearance 2/3
It looks like a stout should, but I withheld a point for the lackluster head.  It was a nice tan color, but couldn't even raise a finger's worth of foam and died a death as inglorious as its birth.  This beer is all but black, with some dark coffee browns along the edge when held to light.

Flavor 18/20
The early combination of dark chocolate/cocoa notes and the bright mint, make the Thin Mints comparison an easy one to make.  Thankfully, that is not all the beer offers.  As it sits in the mouth the mint remains, but the cocoa tones begin to becomes a sweeter more molasses-like note.  It's sweet, but dark in a way that is appropriate to the beer's composition.  Lots of neutral malts also begin to appear, which of course offer little in the way of flavor, but in this case do help the beer transition to the finish.  Put the beer on the tip of your tongue to get a tingly, sweet sensation.  The finish is also a mint reprise, but with little else to combat the mint it becomes as fresh and refreshing.  Any lingering flavors are fairly light, but the omnipresent mint tingle along with some dark, almost charred, malts, and a bit of a peppery bitterness all come together in a pleasant echo of the beer you just enjoyed.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Ah.  So this is where they tried to make it a "seasonal stout."  The mouthfeel is not what one typically comes to expect from a stout.  The body is a solid "medium," but the carbonation is aggressive and prickly.  Maybe this is in concert with the menthol-like cooling of the mint somehow?  Is it just an illusion?  Eventually that carbonation dies a bit and the beer is smooth down the throat with a little bit of sticky cling.

Overall Impression 9/10
Not an "all the time" beer, but it certainly did what it set out to do.  It's not often that some of these "flavor experiments" turn out for the best, but this is one that has succeeded.  The aroma is spot on, the appearance is black and... well, that's about it, the flavor is distinct and harmonious, and the mouthfeel is pretty darn close to style.  It's a nice experiment that I'm bound to drink again one day and until then will undoubtedly use this beer in conversations of unusual beers.

Total 44/50
Not a bad score in my book, though this stout undoubtedly will have its detractors.  It's a distinct, unique flavor and that simply won't appeal to every single craft beer drinker out there.  Does it taste like a thin mint cookie?  Yes.  Has my wife discovered that it pairs insanely well with a mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich.  Within moments of tasting it.  Can you drink this in any season?  Of course.  I've never had a stout with mint in it before, but after drinking this I wouldn't be afraid to try others' forays into the combination.  I claim this as a successful experiment by Ska!  They tried something different, did what they said they would regarding a new flavor, and it turned out pretty darn well.

Bad news:  having been released in the spring, if you can't find it in your area, you may have to wait until next year.
Good news:  There's still a lot of this out there and it shouldn't take a secret treasure map to find it.  I suggest you do.  It's always fun to try something new.

Perhaps my wife's new favorite food pairing.

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