A Vertical Tasting: 11 years of Black Chocolate Stout

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Waiting to enter, enjoying the smell of chocolate malt in the air.

Brooklyn Brewery certainly knows how to throw a party.  When that party is during NYC’s Craft Beer Week, during the year when a favorite Brooklyn Brewery varietal turns 21 years-old, it’s sure to be epic!  Knowing this, I immediately RSVPd for two free tickets to the event without a moment’s hesitation to the vertical tasting of 10 vintages of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout which took place at the brewery last night.

What is a vertical tasting, you ask?  It’s back-to-back sampling of the same beer from different vintages in one sitting.  As I experienced when tasting  a 1993 Courage Russian Imperial Stout, or Parabola 2014 and 2015 side by side, aging a beer (called “cellaring”) can impact flavor significantly.  So can variations in the recipe, despite maintaining the same name, used for the brew from year to year.  Nowhere have these variations been more apparent than when I was given the opportunity to taste 2004, 05, 06, 07 (on tap), 08, 09, 2011, 12, 13, 14 and 15 Black Chocolate Stout in one evening.

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Garrett Oliver sings Happy Birthday to the first beer he created for Brooklyn Brewery

The event was well organized and appropriately busy without being overrun.  Members of the brewery staff, each of whom designed a science fair style nostalgia board (see my untappd profile for photos) to showcase the highlights of the year of the vintage they were pouring, talked fondly about their first brush with Black Chocolate Stout.  There was birthday cake, a passionate crowd, and brewmaster Garret Oliver singing happy birthday – what’s not to love??

By the end of the night, one thing was clear – there was no standout vintage favorite among the crowd (although I would like to put in a STRONG vote for 2006).  We all left with an appreciation for the craftsmanship and dedication that goes into producing each of the vintages and the nuances that can often be missed when not tasting these brews back to back.

2004: Smooth, roasty, and thick
Nostalgia board highlight: Napoleon Dynamite

2005: Much sweeter than ’04, fruity, syrupy even
Nostalgia board highlight: The Twilight Saga (sorry, not sorry)

2006: STRONG favorite of the night. Rich, malty, caramel, more chocolate forward than the previous 2
Nostalgia board highlight: Tom Cruise jumps on Oprah’s couch

2007 (on tap):  Woah!  Wild card.  This was a surprise addition to the tasting and it put everything into perspective.  Tartness.  Sour cherries, maybe raspberry.

2008 (export bottle):  Lots of big chocolate in the nose.  So sweet, almost offensively so.  This is the first vintage I remember tasting in a bar when it came out.  Favorite vintage of my tasting companion
Nostalgia board highlight: Sarah Palin’s “I can see Russia from my beer”

2009: Much more mellow, very smooth.  More milk chocolate than dark chocolate.
Nostalgia board highlight: The server’s high school year book!

2011: Lightly tart, a bit syrupy
Nostalgia board highlight: Wills and Kate’s wedding

2012: Roasty roasty roasty.  Deep dark chocolate.  Maybe even a bit nutty.
Nostalgia board highlight: Mayan Apocalypse

2013: More bitter than the rest.  Maybe even some mint??
Nostalgia board highlight: Louisville NCAA championship (or uniting over disgust for this as Michigan and Kentucky fans)

2014: Smooth, chewy, almost chocolate cookie-esque
Nostalgia board highlight: Kim Kardashian photoshopped to be pouring BCS into a champagne glass on her booty on the cover of Paper

2015: Young, much more carbonation, hoppier than the others
Nostalgia board highlight: Left shark

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