Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Whale A Week: Toppling Goliath Assassin

This time on A Whale A Week we take a look at one of the most popular breweries in the country. The rapid rise of Toppling Goliath, a small brewery in the equally small Iowa town of Decorah, has been nothing less than amazing over the past few years.  They have become the poster child for the Midwest craft beer explosion.  Known initially for their Pseudo Sue Pale Ale (really a tropical fruit bomb IPA) they have continued to innovate and gain traction in the beer scene.  I'll admit that was one of the best beers I tried last year and was sold on their brewing chops.

Earlier this year there was some controversy around the brewery when the head brewer left and the brewery moved a large portion of it's production out of Iowa and into Florida. They ran several one-off beers during that time that some of us viewed as being possible mistakes in trying to reproduce their core beers.  The brewer has since returned and things seem back on track.  However, I will say that the Pseudo Sue I've tried from Florida is not as good as that I had in the past.  I'd take a Surly Todd The Axe Man over it for sure.

Toppling Goliath Assassin 2013

Moving on to the beer in question. Per the website information:
After endless hours of scorching in heat, brewing in turmoil, fermenting in angst, the Assassin’s journey has just begun. In the shadow of the temple, he lies in wait, maturing his plot to perfection. He emerges merciless, dominated by darkness, his bite laced with the charred remnants of his victims. No man dares to cross his path. They will forever sleep with one eye open, in fear of the Assassin’s hot kiss of death.

I believe the first version of this beer released in 2012, with 2013 being the second in the series.  I've seen this going on the black market for upwards of $200.  The beer is a Russian Imperial Stout aged in rye whiskey barrels.  Beer Advocate gives this a 99 and 100 on RateBeer.  I got my bottle from good friend Jason Tuttle, who went to the special release at the brewery to pick up the bottles.  Thanks man!

For this tasting I had over the BeerDust crew.  The bottle is wax dipped, ABV 12.8%.  Poured into Steel Toe and Surly snifter glasses.
Me: BJCP judge, beer geek, amateur photographer.
Keith Brady: Our resident scientist, brewer and winner of MN State Fair Blue Ribbon in IPA this year! An Iowan native.
Mike Lebben: Brewer, small business enthusiast.
Sj: My wife and beer-taster.

Aroma: (In which we are transported to a place where s'mores are made over a warm fire.)

Eric: Thick malty sweetness.  Chocolate--dark and rich.  Mild vanilla and cinnamon.  Roastiness present but more subtle than expected--more like a coffee and espresso aroma.  Whiskey notes for sure and some alcohol.  No hops.  Has a red wine or fortified wine character as it warms up.  Aromas blend nicely.
Mike: Bourbon, vanilla, raisin, chocolate.  Smells like it will be awesome.
Keith: Dark chocolate, prunes, port.  Subtle bourbon barrel.  Slight cherry.

Appearance: (In which we gaze into the Abyss.)

Eric: Black as anything.  Completely opaque.  Very very small deep tan head that fades to nothing quickly.  Looks like oil.  Black Blood of the Earth.  Small legs on edge of glass.
Mike: Dark roasted coffee color with lacy brown head.
Keith: Black hole-ish.  Low lace carbonation.

Flavor:  (In which we taste a range of dessert-like flavors.)

Eric: Powerful prune and raisin oatmeal cookie flavors.  Vanilla strong right away.  Mild tart zing like a sour dried cherry.  Dark chocolate covered pomegranate seeds!  Tannic bite at end that dries out the beer slightly.  Mouthfeel creamy and thick like a milkshake.  Alcohol present and warming but a mellow glow rather than a burn.  No real hop flavors.  Gets sweeter as it warms.  Carbonation higher than expected from appearance.  Complex and well-aged.
Mike: Warm chocolate taste with marshmallow fluff mouthfeel.
Keith: Tastes like diet Utopias.  Chocolate syrup.  Big mouthfeel.  Roasted marshmallow.  Medium hop bitterness.

Overall: (Where we lament not drinking this sooner...)

Eric: Well aged beer.  Some oxidation resulting in dark fruit.  Pleasant and easy drinking high alcohol beer.  Wonderful right now, but I would hesitate to age it longer. It's glory has faded a bit since I tried it last year. 4.5
Mike: I typically share bottles of barrel aged Imperial stouts because of next-day headaches.  I could drink this whole bottle and look forward to the headache as a reminder of how great this beer is. 5
Keith: Hoppier/more bitter than I remember, but in a good way.  Massive chocolate, bourbon, syrup.  A sipper.  Dried fruit with cream.  It is a great beer but not as good as the last time we tried it.  Not like it was brewed in Florida or anything...4.5
Sj: Super sweet--like someone just poured a little Hershey's syrup into it. 4.5

Overall Score: 4.625

I do love this beer and hope to try another vintage at some point.  I'm also jonesing to try their Mornin' Delight coffee RIS if anyone would like to share!

Photo Details: For this shot I set up in a dark area of the basement with only a small side light.  I set a long 15 second exposure and then slowly moved a sword through the shot. I had to try this many times to get it looking good.

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