St. Patrick's Day is the holiday of choice for the beer enthusiast. It conjures visions of all things green, ranging from leprechauns to beer. However, I just can't bring myself to contaminate my favorite brew with food coloring. After all, the phrase "green beer" is often used to describe young and unfermented brews with yeast so active they turn your stomach.
That's why each year on St. Patrick's Day I seek out the best representation I can find of the deep black ale known as the stout. When done well, it's anything but green beer, with a velvety mouthfeel and rich tones of chocolate malt and toffee. Most beer drinkers admit their image of stout is shaped by Guinness. But among the best local stouts in the area right now is Big Slick made by Big Slick Stout from Ale Asylum of Madison.
Style: Big Slick is an oatmeal stout, which falls within the ale family. This stout has oats in its grist, which add a smoothness or silkiness to the mouthfeel. These beers are dark-brown to black and have a sweet maltiness, with some roasted tones in the background. Oatmeal stouts commonly range from 3.0% to 4.8% alcohol by volume.
Background: Big Slick Stout is actually a year-round beer for Ale Asylum. However, it's only available on draft, which means you find it in the brewery's tasting room, and on tap at local restaurants and taverns. Brewmaster Dean Coffey made an earlier version of this beer with the name Sinner's Stout when he worked at the old Angelic Brewing Company in downtown Madison. But Big Slick is what he calls the grandchild of that recipe, and it is much more flavorful and balanced, with body and depth.
Big Slick gets its color and flavor from Munich, Chocolate and Black malts. Coffey, known to be a stickler when it comes to avoiding adjuncts in his beers, says he's careful not to overdo the amount of oatmeal. When asked how much oatmeal, Coffey makes a gesture that seems to recall a leprechaun throwing a "pinch" of magic dust to grant a wish to one who caught him. "There's not much in there, just enough oatmeal to force me to call it an oatmeal stout," he laughs.
Big Slick ferments for about three weeks and finishes at 6.9% ABV. It's found locally on draft in places such as Come Back Inn and in the brewery's tasting room, where it sells for $4/pint and $10/growler (refill).
- Aroma: A light, but firm chocolate maltiness.
- Appearance: Very, very dark body, no hues, no light through this thick body. A medium, soft brown head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, round and smooth.
- Taste: The creamy maltiness of the body has tones of chocolate, caramel and a light toffee background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The ending provides added depth to the overall chocolate malty smoothness of the beer, especially as the beer warms slightly.
Glassware: Given this is a pick for St. Patrick's Day, the English tulip or common Guinness pint, because of its symbolism, is the best glass for the occasion.
Pairs well with: The rich malty backbone of the Big Slick is a great beer for slightly sweet entrees. It'll go well with a bowl of Irish stew or even pasta Alfredo. It's also a nice pizza beer, especially those with rich cheeses but not overly spicy.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Big Slick Stout has distinctive malty flavor and wonderfully smooth texture -- and as its name indicates, there's even a slickness to the mouthfeel. It works well with food and is not too heavy, so drinking more than one with a meal is possible. While the chocolate and caramel offer creaminess, the beer also has a very pleasant toffee flavor that isn't burnt or over-roasted. Big Slick is my pick for celebrating St. Patrick's Day this year. There's just no blarney in this beer.