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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 8.0° F  Fair
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Beer Here: Spetsnaz Stout from the Grumpy Troll

Credit:Robin Shepard

For the past several weeks I've found myself on a malt quest -- searching for that perfect pint of flavor with tones of caramel and chocolate. These beers are often deep golden, brown or even stark black. Last weekend, in my desire to explore the tastes of the season, I ended up in Mount Horeb with a dark and rich, sweet and silky stout in hand.

What is it? Spetsnaz Stout from Grumpy Troll Restaurant and Brewery of Mount Horeb.

Style: Spetsnaz is most closely associated with a sweet or cream stout. Expect a deep, dark color with tan to brown head. The style offers body and mouth feel with a malty sweetness and hints of chocolate and caramel. The malt flavor dominates, but a hint of bitterness is welcome. Hops contribute, but they should not overwhelm the flavor or aroma. The sweet stout finishes with 3%-6% ABV and 15-25 IBUs (International Bittering Units).

Background: Spetsnaz is named after the term for special forces in Russia, because, as brewer Mark Duchow describes it, it's dark, mysterious and special. The beer made with roasted barley, dark chocolate malt and black malt with Nobel hops. Duchow attributes its smooth texture and sweetness to the roasted barley and the chocolate malt.

This stout is a 12-year effort by Duchow. He says it's followed him through all the breweries he's worked in, and during that time he's worked to improve its composition. He explains that the recipe began more as a dry and bitter Irish Stout, but has evolved to really showcase the malt. Duchow also gives credit to brewing advice he received from his friend Mark Knobel of Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls.

Spetsnaz Stout was given a Silver medal in 2009 by the Beverage Testing Institute. It has an alcohol content of 6.7 ABV and 50 IBUs; and it sells for $4/pint, $12/growler (refill) or $6.50/22-ounce bottle. It's considered a standard, always-on-tap beer at the Grumpy Troll. If you like this beer, an "imperial" version that's fermented in oak barrels is expected over the winter on the taps of the Grumpy Troll.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Roasted chocolate malt.
  • Appearance: Very dark, deep bronze tints with a thick brown head.
  • Texture: Full bodied, with a rich and smooth mouth feel.
  • Taste: Great roasted chocolate malt body with a smooth, sweet, malty background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: There is some assertive coffee-like roastedness in the finish that lends a light dryness to the beer, but overall this beer remains smooth and sweet.

Glassware: The Grumpy Troll serves this in a common bar pint. However, a tulip pint (like a Guinness glass) would allow the nose to be focused, and the rich black color and thick head to stand out and be showcased in a manner this bold beer deserves.

Pairs well with: Spetsnaz is a great beer for fall comfort food, especially baked vegetables, squash and pumpkin soups. It also goes well with aged Swiss and Gouda cheeses.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: A- (excellent) at Beer Advocate, and a 94 at RateBeer.

The Verdict: Spetsnaz is, as Duchow describes, dark and special. There's lots of body, deep rich color and smooth sweetness that please the palate so much it can easily become a meal in itself. I really enjoyed this beer with the Grumpy Troll's Gyro-riffic pizza, which features feta cheese and lamb. So much so, in fact, that I picked up a 22-ounce bomber to sip as a nightcap at home. This beer is even better when allowed to warm slightly, which brings out the chocolate and caramel tones of the malt while softening the texture even more.

More news just in from the Grump: The American IPA called Ten Lords Leap'n won Grumpy Troll's 2009 Brewer Challenge. Duchow announced the winner on Friday, October 30, based on its sales over the three other beers in the contest. Last March, four beers were selected in a homebrew competition, and the winner got to brew with Duchow at the Grumpy Troll. Ten Lords, developed by locals Dave Romanin and Jeff Heller, went on tap July 4, and its seven barrels sold out in just 28 days. Its name is a reference to the method of dry hopping, where hops go directly into the fermenter -- and in the case of Ten Lords, at an unusually high rate of 10 additions over 10 days. Duchow says the hoppy beer was so popular he hopes to bring it back in late winter or early spring.

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