In our continuing quest to determine the proper amount of cellaring time for every beer in the world (it’s a big task, but we’re up for it), we popped a bottle of last year’s Sump, the 10.5% stout made with beans from Sump Coffee in St. Louis, and pitted it against a fresh batch. Here are the results:
Nose: Chalky cocoa, like dried-out nibs. Peppery, ashy coffee, though subdued, integrates with the aged notes surprisingly well. Tobacco and grape emerge after a time, sweetened with a dollop of honey. Swirls bring out more dark fruits, raisin and port.
Flavor: Sweet. A sugary blend of raisin, prune and milk chocolate. Flashes of vanilla, even. These notes are somewhat disjointed and jumbled in the front of the flavor, but coffee bean bitterness arrives at the swallow to help click everything in place. Lingering cocoa powder atop espresso.
Body: Slick and a little oily, with tongue-coating sugars. Thick, soft and creamy medium body. Mild CO2. Well-hidden booze.
Overall: More balanced than the fresh version, in a way. Here you get complex malt sugars interacting with the coffee beans; there you get coffee. Appearances from vanilla and even the grapes are welcome, though the fruitiness may be a bit too pronounced for our liking.
Nose: Coffee! Dark roast, but with a blackberry kick and pecan-like sweetness. Amaretto, too. Maple, even, and wet soil. The difference in this vintage is that the foundation is obviously darker, more burnt, and loaded with a greater amount of sharp toasty notes. A rich, coffee roaster’s aroma.
Flavor: Molten salted chocolate, smoked sausage and another hint of that blackberry coffee note again in the flavor’s fore. Espresso fumes fill the mouth as the brew moves about. Finishes somewhat weakly, which is where the older brew has the edge—there’s just no bottom to it, no bass. It does develop more oomph as it warms—this is one to drink close to room temp—but never reaches the potency of the aged batch. Its aftertaste of espresso-dusted chocolate truffles, however, is never a bad thing.
Body: Equally hefty as its older self, though this batch does seem to keep its composure better. There’s less of that sugar-laden, tongue-coating character, which adds to its drinkability. Alcohol and rough edges of the coffee bitterness are more noticeable.
Overall: the version for coffee-lovers.
Going back and forth, the richness of the fresh batch’s coffee makes the aged notes of the ’15 even more pronounced. Time has morphed these into two completely different beers, and which one you’ll prefer depends very much on how you like your coffee. If you take it black, drink Sump fresh. If you pack it full of sugar and creamer, you’ll probably enjoy an aged bottle more. Just sumpin’ to think about.