Quick: Name your favorite Baptist. John? Rookie pick. The best Baptist of them all is obviously Big Bad Baptist, Epic Brewing Co.’s once-a-year bourbon-aged imperial coffee chocolate stout. Epic has been brewing this baddie since 2011, but this year released two special Baptist variants, which are starting to hit shelves now. We tasted all three to see if you should pick up the whole posse.
Big Bad Baptist
What it is: Epic’s classic bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout made with coffee and cocoa nibs. Brewed since 2011, each release of the beer varies slightly in ABV (usually hovering between 10% and 12%) and incorporates a distinct blend of coffee beans. This year’s version features Mexican, Guatemalan and El Salvador blends from Blue Copper Coffee from Salt Lake City; a darker-than normal espresso blend from Denver-based Novo Coffee; and the Guatemalan and Brazilian “Best Friend Blend” from Dark Horse Coffee out of San Diego.
What it tastes like: A ton of burnt toast and dark chocolate, with hints of sourdough and dry, split oak. The cocoa lasts and lasts, and the coffee—accented with a soft blueberry skin fruitiness—is like an espresso shot. After the swallow, the dark chocolate shifts to the milky variety and lingers on the tongue forever and ever. Alcohol arrives a few beats after the swallow in the form of sugary whiskey and big but gentle warmth.
How it’s different from the other Baptists: BBB’s coffee seems sharper, oilier and darker than in the other bottles, closer to espresso roast than your standard drip blends. (Going back to it after tasting the others, it smells like a really good cup of cold brew.) It’s the smoothest and most balanced of the three—an impressively well-composed brew for its strength.
Double Barrel Big Bad Baptist
What it is: A version of Big Bad Baptist made with choice cacao nibs from Solstice Chocolate in Salt Lake City and barrel-aged coffee beans from HotBox Roasters, in Longmont, Colorado. Yes, you read that right—the beans themselves are aged in whiskey barrels. Epic explained the choice in a press release:
“Green coffee beans are like sponges, they soak up the aromas and flavors of their environment. If you put them in a used whiskey barrel, you’ll get notes of toffee, vanilla, oak, and campfire alongside the beans natural fruity and roasted flavors. The barrel aged coffees coming from HotBox are some of the most exciting and truly unique coffees we’ve tasted. We selected their single origin Ethopian Yirgacheffe for its bright blueberry and pomegranate flavors. It’s a major departure from the classic Columbian and Central American flavor profile we normally select for Big Bad Baptist but with the additional flavor contribution from the whiskey barrel and Hot Box’s careful roasting, the coffee comes to the forefront of the beer and really showcases the unique process.” tweet
What it tastes like: Kahlua or some other coffee liqueur. It’s both alcohol-sweet and coffee-focused, with boozy whiskey fumes giving a slight impression of Sharpie markers that melds with vegetal coffee bean top notes. Dry pretzels, melted dark chocolate and a splash of boysenberry maple syrup mix below. Lingering woody quality is like a splintery low-shelf whiskey.
How it’s different from the other Baptists: It’s sweeter than the original and more alcohol-focused than either, with a coffee bean character that certainly does seem “green.” This was our least favorite of the three.
Big Bad Baptista
What it is: A version of the Baptist inspired by Café de Olla, a traditional Mexican coffee served with cinnamon and an unrefined sugar called piloncillo. To capture the drink’s flavor, Baptista is brewed with vanilla, cinnamon, Mexican coffee roasted by Blue Copper Coffee and cacao nibs from Solstice Chocolate.
What it tastes like: Cinnamon frosting on a chocolate cake. The front of each sip is like biting into a decadent slice soaked with espresso, while baked cinnamon and vanilla emerge midpalate. The finish, however, is all cinnamon and whiskey, brightening the whole affair. It’s a little sweet, but gratifying: a treat.
How it’s different from the other Baptists: Baptista’s coffee blend seems spicier and fruitier than those found in the other bottles: a blueberry-and-peppercorn blend. It isn’t nearly as alcohol-heavy as the other two—there’s hardly any whiskey at all, in fact—which is a likely result of the vanilla and cinnamon additions. The beans seem to cool off the sip, while cinnamon overlays any alcohol fumes. It is sugary, however, and harder to drink a substantial amount of than the others—find a few friends and split this bottle with them.