The story begins last year with a visit from my oldest colleague, the famed international explorer and dilettante Bryan Keehl. Having recently returned from Tunisia via a combination of tramp steamer, rail, and motor-car, he ended up back in the States. From a small brewery in the heart of the mob-run, flapper-ridden, cesspool of depravity that is Chicago, my good old friend brought me a rare and precious gift. Secreting it upon his person, he risked the Untouchables and other federal excise men, as well as rival gangs, to bring me a strange and extraordinary bottle. The brewery (now unable to legally brew during these prohibition dry years) was the first I ever frequented, back in my younger, more adventuresome days. These days the place is run by an evil and monolithic shadow corporation intent on taking over the entire world's production of beer from its not-so-secret home in Belgium. For years the brewery has been infiltrated by cultists following the dark arts and subverting the very fabric of the beer world from within. Oh, but the beer is still tasty--perhaps too tasty to let a little thing like that interfere with my enjoyment of their most select brews!
Goose Island Nuthulhu
The base black and oily liquor for this is a Russian Imperial Stout called Cthulhu after H.P. Lovecraft's ancient and forgotten evil alien god that sleeps fitfully in the ocean depths.
From The Necronomicon in the words of the mad prophet Abdul Alhazred:
"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."
This particular noxious concoction is brewed by the shadowy Cthulhu cultists at the Chicago Goose Island Brewpub with hazelnuts, vanilla, and presumably shoggoth ichor extract. Released in just a tiny batch (400 white wax dipped and unlabeled bottles) it is much sought after by collectors of beer antiquities such as myself.
For this special tasting I took a jaunt deep into the cellar. With flickering torch in hand I wiped away the cobwebs of ages, half-seen skitterings at the corner of my vision, chitters of unspeakable things echoing in the distance. Past the recently bricked up portion of the darkest depths of the passage (did I hear a subtle sob and scratching from behind?) I continued to make my way. Past a rare wine cask, at last, upon a nitre encrusted stone slab, there rested my prize. Brushing the dusty accumulations and excretions from the bottle, I could see the white crook-necked goose emblazoned upon the solid glass. Stoppered with thick white wax to prevent decay, the bottle felt heavy in my now somewhat shaky hands. Moving swiftly I left behind the empty reliquary and made my way back out of the dripping and lime encrusted cellar.
At a heavy scarred wooden table, surrounded by our cabal of adventurous drinkers, I set down the precious bottle. Brother Rob, cloaked in his customary brown robes, brandished an aged but sharp dagger to cut the protective seal. Sir Martin provided a hand-forged and weighty iron opener suitable for releasing the liquid from it's long slumber. Heather, Jess and Sarajo, three fine ladies, bold for their fairer sex, pushed their chalices forward to partake of this potentially dangerous tasting. Master Hutch loomed over us, keeping guard for any untoward effects released from this mystery.
Appearance: The ancient flagon is opened and eldritch horrors are released into the world of man!
Popped like the seal on a long-closed grave, the hiss of exhalations moan from the bottle--hinting at untold riches or dangers to be had. Decanted into our waiting cluster of bejeweled goblets and chalices, the vile and viscous inebriant slowly drains from the bottle, black as the pits, with just hints of bloody highlights at the edge of the glass. Only a slight foam of head rises, but then slowly sinks back down into the cimmerian murk, like a submerging crocodile into the benighted and roiling Nile.
Aroma: A cautious sniff of this liquid leads to outbursts and utterations.
Eric: Strong alcohol wafts from the clear glass goblet. Earthy coffee from the Dark Continent melds with the aroma of raw cocoa nibs. The scent of the filbert drifts upon the nose following the sooty melange. From the darkest jungles of South America, the seed pod of the rare vanilla orchid blossoms as this warms from the heat of my trembling and sweaty hand.
Brother Rob: Smell the hazelnut and tremble my brothers! Roast and chocolate are strong in this.
Heather: Vanilla bean, nutmeg, and madness!
Jess: More balanced than the other beers we've sampled my friends...
Flavor: The syrupy nectar of Cthulhu tempts us with its untold ancient secrets.
Eric: Refined sugary sweetness. Hazelnut fairly drips off the tongue, leaving a slick mouthfeel, as if an enormous slug has left behind its trail upon it. Vanilla bean accentuates the sweet taste, lingering long after the sip has finished. Some warming of the throat hints at strong alcohol hiding behind the sweetened flavors, lurking out of sight but ready to cause dementia and chaos in the incautious drinker. The finish continues honeyed and toothsome but not quite cloying.
Brother Rob: Lotsa, lotsa vanilla! A bit of aspartame, this leaves a spicy feeling. Like a creme brulee from distant France. Not sure if I get egg yolk, or if the vanilla association leads to these notes.
Heather: Creme brulee. And Grainnnnnnnnnnsssssss!!
Jess: Smooth...but in the the way that Nutella is smooth. Full mouth feel.
Overall: The (quite literally) final words on this singular brew.
Eric: The sweetness of this concoction is near overwhelming, but the wild and powerful hazelnut and vanilla flavors make this stand out in my mind as one of the more unique rare beers I've tasted this year. Better than most of its brethren. Suitable for warming one on an interstellar journey through long aeons and the cold remoteness of space. A 5 out of 5 I say! As I sip my final dram, I feel the world shimmer, the fragile veil between our world and...others...gives an audible rip and a vision hits me--an island in the Pacific, rising from the sea, a great octopus headed creature crouched upon its shuddering shores, fish-like eyes seeing into my shattering soul. Ai, Cthulhu ftagn!!
Brother Rob: (Silent, in demented reverie, he scrawls out a 4.75 in thick ruby ink that can only be his own blood.)
Heather: (Heather is gone, just a number 5 left incised into the wood of the table.)
Jess: (Gibbering madly from the corner where she rocks on her heels, repeating the numerals 4.5 over and over mixed with maniacal laughter and titters.)
Sarajo: (Brandishing Sir Martin's solid opener like a mace, clutching the last few drops of Nuthulu in her glass to her chest. She eyes my still partially full goblet with an avaricious gleam in her crazed eyes.) "My precious dessert! A 5 for me oh yes! Mine, all mine!"
Sir Martin: (Lies silently upon the floor in a shadowy pool of blood.)
Master Hutch: (Laughs with deep ringing tones, the bloody dagger clutched in one gore-spattered hand. The one who was to watch over us has betrayed us all...this is why he did not partake of the madness inducing brew!)
Overall Score: Madness! And a 4.85
Seriously, this was a great beer. Thanks to Bryan for bringing this back for me. And thanks to my bold beer adventurers for helping out with the tasting!
As an added bonus and to continue the Lovecraftian action, we also tasted the recently released Tsothoggua (also a Cthulhu Mythos creature out of time and space). I had picked up this bomber bottle at Eastlake Brewery in Minneapolis the previous week. The beer is also a Russian Imperial and aged with oak and Spanish brandy.
The beer is dark and has a smoky overly roasted (nearly burnt coffee) aroma and flavor. Hints of dark bitter chocolate are present. A bit astringent and thin (especially compared with the almost unbearable sweetness of Nuthulhu) but still a solid beer. Hints of brandy are present, but the oak perhaps takes this too woody and dry. This is my favorite beer from the brewery.
Overall Score: Not as much madness! 3.625
If for some strange reason you have come to this point in your life without reading any H.P. Lovecraft prose, you should be ashamed! I suggest Shadows Over Innsmouth, The Call of Cthulhu, The Rats in the Walls, The Outsider, and The Whisperer in Darkness as some of his best stories. A local playwright and actor named Tim Uren has done a one man show of The Rats in the Walls for Fringe Festival in the past that was perhaps the finest horror play I've ever seen in live theater. He hopes to remount it one more time this coming year so keep your ear out for the scratching and skitterings from between the walls...