While looking for a stout to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, my first thoughts did not include the newly released Cherry Stout from New Glarus. But wow, what a surprise! It turns out to be a beer with the recognizable chocolate and malty tones of the stout style, only brilliantly punctuated with cherry tartness. This brew is a chocolate-covered cherry in a glass.
What is it? Cherry Stout from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wisconsin.
Style: The base beer for New Glarus Cherry Stout is a light-bodied stout, similar to an export or foreign stout in style. Brewmaster Dan Carey refers to it as a milder, "session" stout with solid sweetness and caramel flavors. Such easy-drinking stouts are black, with light hints of coffee-like roasted barley and roasted malts. There is little hop aroma or bitterness, because the malts provide the main flavor. They range in strength from 4.5% to 7.5% ABV.
Background: This beer gets its assertive fruitiness from resting in oak tanks on a bed of Door County Montmorency cherries for nearly four months before it's bottled. Fans of New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Cherry Red will notice similarities in a sour cherry flavor. Carey says this beer is made in the same oak tanks, only with about one-third of the amount of cherries. Still, there's plenty of fruit to rise above all the malts in the core stout style. Carey's choice of eight different malts includes a series of caramel and black malts, both flaked and roasted barleys, and a touch of white wheat. He also adds a specialty malt called Bonlande, which is known for its exceptional smooth sweetness. There isn't much bitterness to this beer, only a light amount of Cascade hops for balance; it comes in at 17 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).
Carey says the challenge to making this beer is finding the right combination of malty stout flavor alongside the cherries. "Anytime you brew a fruit beer, I believe you have to have some tartness and sour character, but this beer is a balance of all of those things. So it's not too sour, too bitter or too sweet."
Carey first made his Cherry Stout in 2005. It recently reappeared in the brewery's signature Thumb Print series of limited releases because of popular demand. Every fall, the brewery asks beer enthusiasts to vote for beers that they would like to see in the upcoming year. Cherry Stout was a top vote-getter, so Carey put it on the 2012 schedule. While it's easy to find right now, don't wait too long -- the brewery made only 180 barrels.
New Glarus Cherry Stout finishes around 6.5% ABV. It's sold in the Thumb Print series of 4-packs for around $10-$11.
For those who enjoy the Thumb Print series, this spring marks the return of New Glarus Double IPA. In 2012 Carey hopes to release at least seven beers in this limited series.
- Aroma: An initial fruity cherry nose, with a whiff of chocolate malt.
- Appearance: Black with reddish-bronze highlights.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, bubbly and round.
- Taste: The fruity-cherry nose gives a smooth chocolate maltiness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The cherry and chocolate combine in the end for a black cherry-like sourness.
Glassware: This is a wonderful beer in the tulip pint glass (similar to that made famous by Guinness). Its slight inward flare at the lip will gently focus the fruity cherry aroma under the nose.
Pairs well with: To really appreciate the Cherry Stout, enjoy it on its own as an after-dinner drink or night cap. For a special treat, try it next to a mild chocolate-mint cookie.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: What a treat! New Glarus Cherry Stout has a firm, smooth malty backbone that is wrapped in sharp cherry tartness. The fruitiness comes in strong in the nose, but the malts with hints of caramel and chocolate are found in the middle flavor. The cherry comes back aggressively in the end and lingers in the finish. The intensity of the cherry flavor might be a bit much for some, but try stashing away a few bottles for fall, and those sour tones should soften and round out to complement the malt even more.