In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the panel focused its attention, Feb. 13, on chocolate beers — offerings brewed with chocolate or with added chocolate. In trying nine different selections, the panel learned that brewers have a broad interpretation of what constitutes a “chocolate beer,” and that finding a notable chocolate brew isn’t as easy at it may seem.
(Panelists: Jon Graney, Mike Festi, Bob Bowden, Amy Graney, Eric Johnson, Sara Esthus)
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout . . . 75 points
Of the nine brews the panel sampled, this stout from Charles Wells Ltd. was the only one from a can. However, the can held a little surprise…a draught-style widget, which on pour produced the nitrogen-rich, cascading head usually attributed to Guinness, who invented the process in 1969. The panel was impressed with the draught style head, black color and delicate nose of cocoa, vanilla and cream, with light hints of smoke. Upon tasting, the panel enjoyed the creaminess and light body, but missed a notable chocolate flavor. Faint chocolate taste was, however, noted on the aftertaste. Ultimately, the panel gave its smoothness high marks for drinkability.
(Appearance 10, Smell 7.33, Taste 19.67, Aftertaste 15.67, Drinkability 22)
Hooker Chocolate Truffle Stout . . . 71 points
Thomas Hooker Brewery produces this stout using chocolate from noted Connecticut chocolatier, Munson’s Chocolates. The panel found this beer narrowly edged out a New England favorite: Harpoon Chocolate Stout. Hooker’s take has a dark appearance with a good head, and a gentle nose of cocoa and smoke. The panel found the taste smooth, with a bit of smoke and bitterness. Overtones of chocolate were noted, but the panel felt it could have been more chocolatey. The beer had a light finish that fell a bit flat, but ultimately balanced and drinkable. One panelist noted, “I could go all night with this Hooker!”
(Appearance 8.5, Smell 6.5, Taste 21.17, Aftertaste 14.17, Drinkability 20.5)
Harpoon Chocolate Stout . . . 70 points
When the panel decided on a theme of chocolate beers, this perennial favorite from Harpoon Brewing was first on the list. Appearance was dark and pleasing, but smell is what dominates this stout — with big aromas of Tootsie Rolls, fudge, coffee and ice cream. The panel enjoyed the taste a bit more than the similar Hooker brew, with its hints of baker’s chocolate and coffee. However this stout’s taste lacked the big chocolate noted in the smell. Still, the panel found the slightly bitter, slightly smoky, coffee-like flavor well-rounded and smooth. Drinkability was overall good, though most panelists noted that the beer’s bitter, dry aftertaste affected how long you could drink it.
(Appearance 7.5, Smell 8, Taste 22.33, Aftertaste 13.33, Drinkability 18.83)
Founders Big Lushious . . . 69 points
Founders Brewing’s Big Lushious stout makes a big statement: raspberries belong in your beer. The panelists were pleased with the rich reddish-black color, and the huge smell of raspberry jam and light cocoa. The fruity, raspberry taste overpowered what little chocolate taste was evident. But when paired with a chocolate bar, this dessert beer made one panelist exclaim, “Take your pants off before you drink this!” Everything about this beer is big and bold. Big bottle, big aroma, bold flavor and a bold label. The drawback to a beer this big is that it’s a one-and-done beer, which hurt its drinkability rating. But if you’re planning to only have one, it’s going to be a memorable one.
(Appearance 8.83, Smell 8.17, Taste 24.33, Aftertaste 13.5, Drinkability 13.67)
Breckenridge 72 Imperial Chocolate Cream Stout . . . 68 points
Breckenridge’s interpretation of chocolate stout couldn’t be more different than Founders’. On pour, the black syrupy brew is topped with a minimal head…but one that laces the glass as you drink it. Scents of oak, honey, milkshake and a touch of cherry were notable. The panel found the taste bold and different, with a sweet tongue highlighted with flavors of cherry and whiskey. Chocolate was present, but again lighter than the panel was hoping. The aftertaste was smooth, but a bit medicinal — likely the effect of time spent aging in whiskey barrels. Drinkability was middle-of-the-road. While it was enjoyable, the panel agreed that you probably wouldn’t be able to drink a lot of it.
(Appearance 9, Smell 8.17, Taste 19.17, Aftertaste 15.33, Drinkability 16.33)
Harpoon Black Forest . . . 66 points
Like its name suggests, Black Forest is an imperial porter brewed with chocolate and cherry, and upon pouring, it looks like a cherry cola. It was the lightest color of all the beers sampled. The panel found its soft cherry flavor pleasing, though overpowering to a point where chocolate flavor was lacking. Though drinkable, the panel expected more from a limited edition brew.
(Appearance 7.83, Smell 7.83, Taste 20.33, Aftertaste 13.5, Drinkability 16.5)
Southern Tier Choklat . . . 65 points
Of all the beers sampled, Southern Tier’s imperial stout with chocolate was deemed the most complex. It had a dark brown appearance accompanied by a light nose of dark chocolate and cream cola. The panel noted a taste of bitter, unsweetened chocolate and coffee that developed into a smokier taste as it went. The panel found the aftertaste a bit too bitter. Drinkability was rated average.
(Appearance 8.83, Smell 8.17, Taste 18, Aftertaste 13, Drinkability 16.67)
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout . . . 63 points
Brooklyn’s stout received points for its appearance and smell, with a colorful head and a nose of milk chocolate. The panel found the taste sweet on first take, with a blend of chocolate and coffee. But the taste and especially aftertaste developed into an overwhelmingly bitter experience, which cut drinkability.
(Appearance 9, Smell 8, Taste 18.83, Aftertaste 12.67, Drinkability 14.67)
Rogue Chocolate Stout . . . 62 points
Some of the panelists favor Rogue’s other beers, so when it was time to evaluate chocolate beers, Rogue’s take had to be on the list. But the panel quickly found out that Rogue’s hoppy take on stout is a far cry from the standard definition. The panelists admired the appearance, and noted scents of wood, vanilla and smoke, but not much chocolate. On taste, the hops overpowered any other overtones, leaving behind a bitter and dry aftertaste with some coffee and smoke. But tastes of chocolate were nowhere to be found, leaving on panelist to say, “If you’re going to market it as chocolate, put some chocolate in it.”
(Appearance 8.17, Smell 7.17, Taste 17.17, Aftertaste 12, Drinkability 17.83)