Pros: Rich, roasty, delightful blend of beer and coffee.
Cons: Intermittent availability.
These days, the big thing in brewing is the limited release specialty beer. Mostly, that's because beer enthusiasts tend to be a fickle lot, always chasing the latest best thing. So, wise brewers have figured out, why not give them more big things to chase? Namely, one-off specialties that will disappear just as soon as beer drinkers are ready for something new.
One of the latest breweries to hop on this bandwagon is Seattle's Redhook Ales, which began a Limited Release program in late 2008. To kick the series off, they revived an old favorite: Redhook Double Black Stout. Double Black Stout isn't just a bigger, bolder stout, mind you: it's stout brewed with real coffee. Redhook calls this a "smooth Imperial Stout enhanced by coffee and dark malts with a big, roasty finish."
Double Black Stout debuted in 1995 and, at the time, was brewed with Starbucks coffee for a true pairing of Seattle brew giants. Today, there's no mention of where the coffee comes from, though the beer seems just as tasty. Double Black Stout packs a punch in more ways then one, having both caffeine and alcohol (7.0% by volume).
Drinking too much of this one might just leave you a wide awake drunk. But how much caffeine is really in Double Black Stout? Back in March of 1996, I saw a story on the beer on a Rhode Island news channel. They claimed each bottle contained about as much caffeine as a half cup of coffee (a call to the brewery and I was informed that this was correct for a 16-ounce serving), and interviewed a seeming neo-prohibitionist who was worried people might think the caffeine might leave drinkers thinking they were sober enough to drive after drinking. Please. in any event, I assume that the figures should be similar for today's version.
The correlation between stout and coffee is natural here; in both cases, the main ingredient is roasted to attain it's distinctly dark and rich flavor. making a beer with coffee should therefore not come as a surprise, and Redhook is certainly not the only brewer to pair the two.
Redhook Double Black Stout pours to a midnight black (though not fully opaque) color with a thin but creamy tan head formation and a sinfully rich nose of licorice and black coffee. There's a lot going on in the palate, too: dark bittersweet chocolate, licorice, perhaps a hint of prune and roasty espresso. The latter is to be expected in a coffee stout, and it intensifies into the finish, which has a distinct roasty bitterness. Indeed, I found the coffee elements to be most pronounced in the nose and the finish. A touch of grassy hops manage to poke through as the beer fades on the palate, too.
I love this beer. I did back in the nineties, and I do now. It's not the biggest of imperial stouts, but that's for the best, since that might drown out the coffee notes. Well worth trying on those occasions when Redhook offers it. The Double Black I'm drinking tonight was bottled on October 8th of 2008, and I've kept it for about a year. It's delicious still after that time, so if you can still find it well-preserved, it's a recommended buy. Especially at the five bucks a bottle asking price.