Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Whale A Week: AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout

A Whale A Week is my attempt to both share some rare beers with good friends and empty my overflowing beer cellar.  Over the entire course of this year I will drink and blog about one "Whale" beer every week!  I've been on an epic road trip to Asheville, NC with tons of beer stops on the way, so I am running behind on these posts!  Two weeks ago we covered the 2012 KBS, and this week we move to another famous coffee beer...

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout 2014

For this tasting I had over one of my friends: Andrew Gieseke.  Known for his snarky attitude and love of sour beers, he chose this little gem from my stash.  

AleSmith Brewing Company is a craft brewery out of  San Diego, California, opening in 1995.  They are currently expanding into a new and larger brewhouse and tasting room just a few blocks from their current digs.  It looks like Mikkeller is moving into the soon-to-be-vacated current brewhouse, but I don't have many details of that deal.  

Speedway Stout:  I've been a huge fan of this beer since I first tried it about 2 years ago.  Earlier this  year I wrote up a blog entry on coffee beers that included the special Jamaican Blue Mountain version of the beer. You can review it HERE, if you like.  That beer was amazing, so I was very excited about trying another version.  I also have a Barrel Aged version I'm holding back for a future Whale A Week tasting...

Vietnamese Coffee in a stout?  This special limited release version of Speedway Stout features Vietnamese coffee.  For this batch AleSmith traditionally brews Vietnamese coffee, with a phin style filter that gently percolates water through ground coffee.  The filter is a small metal "hat" that sits on top of the coffee mug.  Vietnamese coffee usually comes from multiple sources and is blended for the right character, making it different (and some purists would say inferior) than the 100% Arabica beans found in most upper end coffees.  Typically the roast is dark, similar to French Roast, but is roasted longer and at lower temperature to get a more even character and less burnt flavors (Charbucks I'm talking to you...)  Traditionally the beans are roasted with a little oil to help with even roasting and may even use a hint of sugar, vanilla, and cocoa.  As a coffee fan, I'm already intrigued!  I'm trying to figure out where AleSmith found a big enough phin filter to do this for a whole commercial batch...

Beer Advocate rates this one at a solid 100, as does RateBeer, and this batch is seriously traded for!  

For our tasting we cracked this bottle at about 45 degrees F and served it into snifter glasses, so we could cup it in the hand to warm it up to closer to proper 50-55 degree tasting temperature.  My wife, Sj tasted along.  Here are our tasting notes. 

Eric: Cinnamon, vanilla, iced coffee all very strong.  I get semi-sweet chocolate sweetness as swirled.  This has a powerful malted milk sweetness that reminds me of the malted milk I used to drink as a child.  Coffee gelato aromas.  No hops.  Mild alcohol warming on the nose.
Andrew: Bitter black chocolate poured over coffee.  Medium roast with nutty overtones and some vanilla marshmallows.  A bit of graham cracker crust.  Swirl wafts more bitter dark chocolate and espresso bean.  Wood/oak tannins.

Combined: Inky black.  Carbonation meteors appear from the foam ridge of the glass, wispy strings hang around.  Thick body with legs at glass edge.  Deep tan to full brown head--one of the darkest I've seen.  

Eric: Sweet and malty brew up front, coating the tongue with creamy and viscous mouthfeel.  Vanilla and marshmallow is strong. Cocoa and expensive dark chocolate flavors with some bitterness toward the middle and end.  Roast malt and dark coffee flavors actually hit a bit late after the chocolate, making a lingering mildly astringent finish.  Coffee flavor is more subtle than in the aroma, but is very present and mellow--melding well with the creamy mouthfeel and the roasted malts.  Some alcohol warming, but not overly boozy.  As it warms I get some earthy character.  No hop flavors, but certainly some bitterness here--still balanced to the malty side.  I get some tannin and what seems like bourbon/oak character.
Andrew: Strong vanilla-marshmallow and woody/oak.  Chocolate covered espresso bean.  Medium roast and some boozy heat.  That woody, nutty pop like when you bite into an espresso bean.  Rounded over with vanilla.  Not too thick and sticky, but a bit creamy.  Dry from booze and tannins whether that be coffee or roast malt.

Eric: Seriously--this isn't bourbon barrel aged????  The complexity, combined with vanilla, booze and tannin makes this taste incredibly similar to a bourbon barrel aged beer.  The beer uses coffee in the best possible way--strong, but not overwhelming--a great supporting actor for the base Imperial stout that is the star of the show.  The overall impression is that of high end dark chocolate, coming across as sweet and rich without being cloying.  Deep, dark and decadent.  I give it a 5.
Andrew: Love the blends of coffee and then the big vanilla bomb hits!  Touch on the boozy/acrid side but the dryness makes it easier to drink, especially for a 12%.  Well blended.  The complexity of this is incredible. 4.5
Sarajo: Tastes like barrel. 4.5

This was a great beer!  I wanted to make a couple of points before moving on.  First off, this beer was bottled 7/14.  Age will often cause coffee to fade, and sometimes move to an earthy vegetal flavor (see previous 2012 KBS review for more on that).  Personally, I have found that coffee more than a few months old in a beer often strikes me as cinnamon, and I certainly picked this up today.  We were all shocked by how much this beer tasted like it was aged in a barrel.  There apparently is a version where that is done--and I can only imagine what that tastes like!  I was happy to get to share this special beer before it lost its mojo.  

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