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Thursday, November 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 20.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Beer Here: Chocolate Imperial Porter from Tyranena Brewing
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Credit:Robin Shepard

Rob Larson, the brewer and owner of Tyranena Brewing Company in Lake Mills, is well known for his hoppy brews like Stone Teepee Pale Ale, Bitter Woman and the just-released seasonal named Hop Whore. These beers have assertive personalities, but for some, they overshadow Larson's talent making full-bodied dark, robust porters. Devil in the Rye, partially the batches aged in rye bourbon barrels, and the Devil Make Me Do It Imperial Oatmeal Porter, are two examples of his "uncensored" Brewers Gone Wild series of beers that make malt fans cheer.

Now regulars at the Tyranena tasting room are the beneficiaries of Larson's skill with big malty brew. He's been playing around with cocoa nibs in his imperial porter and developed something very special.

What is it? Chocolate Imperial Porter from Tyranena Brewing Company.

Style: Imperial Porter is an emerging American style that falls somewhere between the traditional brown and robust porters and the Baltic Porter. The basic porter style is a bit hard to narrow down, as it can range from light brown to dark and robust. As an "imperial" variant, it should be dark, full-bodied with a thicker mouth feel, a higher amount of maltinesss, and perhaps more roasted with dry bitter qualities. It also will have enough strength to be cautious of, an alcohol content that can exceed 7% ABV. The Imperial Porter can sometimes be confused with the Baltic Porter, but "imperials" are brewed as an ale. Modern versions of the Baltic Porter, a style with very similar characteristics, are sometimes brewed as lagers.

Background: Tyranena's Chocolate Imperial Porter's distinguishing feature is raw cocoa nibs, the essences of what we know as chocolate. Cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that are separated from the husks and broken into small bits. They can be used raw or roasted, which influences the flavor and aroma. Larson added 44 pounds of cocoa nibs into the brew kettle to make 20 barrels of beer. Larson began with an Imperial Oatmeal Porter, his Devil Make Me Do It, but substituted the nibs in place of coffee. He then fermented the beer for about two weeks.

Using cocoa can be tricky for a brewer, and Larson says he considers this beer an experiment. He wanted to see what flavors would emerge from among the chocolate and nutty tones of the cocoa nibs and other basic ingredients in the beer -- including chocolate malt, English brown and amber malts, and oatmeal. "I think the cocoa nibs give it a nutty flavor with some solid chocolate," he explains, "but not so much that it overwhelms the beer." It's likely to be a one-time beer, because Larson is still tweaking the recipe and considering what styles that cocoa nibs might work with even better.

Chocolate in beer isn't that far-fetched. The term "chocolate malt" refers to the dark chocolate color of deeply kilned malt. The actual use of cocoa as a flavoring and fermentable sugar is found in several well-known brews. Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock is aged on a bed of cocoa nibs, while Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery uses nibs and honey to make its Theombroma.

Tyranena's Chocolate Imperial Porter sells for $4/pint and $8.50 growler (refill) in the brewery's tasting room.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Smoky chocolate.
  • Appearance: Very dark with bronze tints. A thick, brown marbled head.
  • Texture: Full-bodied, bubbly and round.
  • Taste: Firm malty start with smooth, semi-sweet chocolate body and nutty background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Roasted and nutty finish with a warmth that builds.

Glassware: I enjoyed this beer in the English tulip pint, similar to the Guinness pint glass. The inward shape at the top of the glass focused the roasted and nutty nose while setting up the wonderful smooth sweetness of the beer. As the beer warms, the chocolate qualities become smoother and more evident.

Pairs well with: A little smoke or char-grill from the barbecue will be accentuated nicely by this brew. However, its smooth sweetness will make it an awesome dessert companion, especially with carrot cake. Or, just skip the cake and enjoy it as a nightcap!

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: This beer has not received enough ratings to be evaluated on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer.

The Verdict: I'm a big fan of malt, especially chocolate malt. So these are beers I feel I really know, and this is one I like. If you also crave a robust porter -- especially one with enough sweetness to make your fingers stick to the glass and make you think you can drink a 64-ounce growler by yourself -- this is worth seeking out. Chocolate Imperial Porter is full-bodied, sweet, with light nutty notes in the background and a warm malty finish. While some may feel this is a great beer for winter and may want to wait until the snow flies, this beer doesn't need a season or a reason for me. Hey Rob: You really don't need to tweak this recipe any more. Don't fix what ain't broke!

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