Black Tuesday and Chocolate Rain. Mention those bottles and any beer geek worth his brewery T-shirt collection will slowly nod in approval. The imperial stouts are two of the jewels in a massive lineup of beers from California-based brewery The Bruery, sought-after for their huge flavors and equally huge alcohol contents (the lowest ABV of any Black Tuesday vintage is 18.3%).
A few days ago, DRAFT was able to participate in a large tasting of beers from The Bruery that featured very tall verticals of both Black Tuesday and Chocolate Rain (this job does have its perks). Skip to the bottom of the post if you just want to see the results of that tasting, but continue reading if you’d also like some insight from Patrick Rue, The Bruery’s founder, on how long he thinks these beers should be aged—and why they’re all so damn different from one another.
“The 2009 Black Tuesday is different from all other Black Tuesdays,” Rue says. “That first batch was a kitchen sink beer. I used all these leftover grains and specialty malts from my homebrewing days, just as more of an inventory clearing than anything else.”
That first batch, he says, included 15 different specialty malts; subsequent batches have contained closer to eight. But even though each Black Tuesday has been brewed using the same recipe since that first batch, we were struck by just how much variance there was between each vintage. Rue says the quirks of the bourbon barrels in which the beer rests can affect this, but a bigger player is how the beer is fermented.
“We don’t add sugar during the boil, but after the first 48 hours of fermentation, we feed it sugar every day for a few days after to bring up the gravity,” Rue says. “The yeast react to that a little differently every time, so you get different alcohol levels and slightly different flavors.”
Time can act as an ingredient as well. Rue says Black Tuesday in particular can be pretty hot when fresh, but three years in, it’s a completely different beer: smoother, sweeter, and more nuanced, with elements of port wine, nuts, caramel and coconut. But he recommends letting the beer sit even longer than that.
“I think at five years it’s great,” Rue says. “The original BT is still holding up well, but after five years you’re pretty much guaranteed a really smooth beer.”
And how about Black Tuesday’s cocoa- and vanilla-infused brother, Chocolate Rain?
“I think a year is what I’d prefer on Chocolate Rain, to have the vanilla and chocolate pop,” Rue says.
Here’s what we thought of each vintage and where we’d rank them all:
- 2016: Bubblegum, maple syrup and fudge. Very warm, very sugary. More focused on turbinado sugar at the front, while bourbon appears at the swallow. Little stout character. Still very warm; you can feel every bit of its heat traveling down the throat.
- 2015: Milk chocolate, toasted coconut, dark oaky bourbon. Still very hot—actually even hotter than the 16, surprisingly. There’s more whiskey character, too, and more oak. The body has thinned out somewhat.
- 2014: The aroma is like chocolate you left in the back of the cupboard. A little shaved coconut, some vanilla bean. Surprisingly quiet. Cola-like flavor, spicy and somehow even hotter than the previous two. Lots of sharp oak, plus caramel drizzles. The finish is all whiskey and chocolate sugar. Rougher than either of its predecessors, it’s heavier on both oak splinters and bourbon.
- 2013: Heavily toasted, slightly smoky oak in the nose, with supporting layers of dark chocolate, coconut and vanilla bean. The flavor is like smooth bourbon; a harmonious blend of coconut and chocolate and oak. Finish is very sugary, building with each sip. Toasty oak flows through the nose. Smoother than the previous bottles; still hot, but not aggressively so.
- 2012: The nose is slightly metallic, like rust. Huge liquor character, fruity like dark rum plus bitter dark chocolate. Flavor is smooth and smoky— a cigar made of dark chocolate. Hints of coconut, vanilla bean, cola and anise. The finish has a slight ashiness. Warm, with more toasty bitterness than any of the others so far as well as more of the base stout.
- 2011: Sugary aroma, packed with both brown and turbinado varieties. Slight vanilla-laden oak character; lots of higher alcohols. The flavor is almost fruity, with fresh coconut and even a bit of banana peel. Cocoa powder and a hint of roasted peanut emerge as the brew warms. The finish is very sweet and very boozy, but the ashiness at the swallow and the compact chocolate truffle finish make up for it.
- 2010: Oddly enough, this was the only bottle in the vertical we weren’t able to acquire. #sad
- 2009: Rich, rich, rich and thick. This thing is like dessert: Dreyer’s vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate syrup. Just a hint of honeylike oxidation peeks through. Swallows are slightly sweet but exhibit more balance than any other year, and the alcohol is more smoothly integrated. It’s more substantial in terms of body, but also smoother in flavor and lower in alcohol burn than the other. There’s just more to it, and it’s obvious.
Our rankings: 2009, 2011, 2016, 2015, 2013, 2014
- 2016: Cocoa nibs, steak char. A tangy flavor—lots of turbinado sugar and whiskey. Very, very oaky, with lingering charred wood. Hint of anise midpalate; surge of plum at the swallow.
- 2015: Peanut shells and cocoa nibs. There’s a bit more alcohol burn here, but less outright whiskey and wood character; more of the stout’s chocolate and roast shines through.
- 2014: Even more peanut character than the last one. Hints of blueberry and fudge. Smooth up until the swallow, which is quite dry and spicy, like dried ginger.
- 2013: On point! Tons of rich fudge, plus a bit of spicy wood. Alcohol is unnoticeable and whiskey is perfectly integrated, the oak connecting with the chocolate. Drinks half its ABV, which is saying something.
- 2012: Boozy again. Mostly fruity whiskey in the nose; not much chocolate in the flavor. Flavor is spicy, with anise and ginger, toasted coconut and drying oak chips. Swallow is bourbon plus cocoa powder. A bit thin, a bit sugary.
- 2011: Bourbon and flank steak. Seems devoid of chocolate; swallows are mostly oak and sweet whiskey.
Our rankings: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2011