Allagash describes their Black beer as a “Belgian style stout”. This may sound somewhat odd to an experienced beer drinker who knows that, though often difficult to precisely define, the stout is a spinoff of British Porters and should have little in common with Belgian beers that are known for their sweetness and flavors ranging from fruity to spicy. However, one taste of this will confirm that Allagash has their classification correct.
It pours with a relatively short light tan head that dissipates after a few minutes into a thin film that will last for as long as it takes you to finish the glass. There is relatively little nose on this beer — what does come through hints of coffee and caramel. On first taste, this is just a traditional stout, reminiscent of something like Sam Smith’s oatmeal stout, though with a thicker body and mouthfeel more like a cream stout (I’d really love to try this on nitro, but that would be difficult to do along with the bottle fermentation and traditional carbonation technique used on this beer).
On further examination you will discover that the beer has a very nice coffee flavor from the variety of roasted malts used in its production. I actually think that this well-balanced roast flavor is what cements this beer as a true stout. The caramel flavor that comes through alongside this is most definitely Belgian candi sugar rather than the caramelized malts used to sweeten more traditional stouts. I appreciate the slight difference in flavor from the candied sucrose, which I think plays heavily into this beer’s Belgian heritage — maybe more even than the yeast. Despite what the description on their website says, I don’t taste much chocolate in this beer. I don’t consider this a bad thing — though I love chocolate stouts and consider Young’s Double Chocolate as one of my favorites — but the coffee and caramel flavors play so well off of each other that I don’t think it needs anything more.
Once you are past the flavors of the roast, which eventually smooth out so you can taste the barley itself, the beer finishes with just a hint of fruit that blurs the line between cherry, plum, and fig, along with a nice bitter that is a blend of hops and roasted barley.
Unlike more traditional Belgian beers that highlight the fruity/spicy yeasts, this beer takes advantage of the flavors imparted by the yeasts without letting them take center stage. If you know what to look for, you will find hints of cinnamon and nutmeg throughout the entire flavor profile of the beer, which I am almost certain comes from the yeast, and which contributes heavily to the wonderful caramelized coffee flavor of the beer. There are also notes of fruity yeast, which I am hesitant to call “banana” even though I know the flavors are related, though much more subtle unless you let the beer wash over your entire tongue to let every type of taste bud share in the flavor.
If there was anything I had to critique about the beer, it’s that I would like to see that plum/cherry/fig finish enhanced by slightly raising the amount of Belgian specialty grains used. Knowing from experience that this is more easily said than done, especially so as not to throw off the balance of one of my favorite beers, I can’t say that it’s a very strong critique.
- Would I buy this beer again? My beer fridge is lonely without it.
- Would I pay restaurant prices for this beer? Yes.
For what it’s worth, this is one of my favorite beers. The time I spent analyzing it for this post confirms that and makes it even more interesting to me. I try to keep a bottle or two on hand for when the mood strikes me (that and it’s one of the few beers I’ve ever heard my mother describe as “good”, and I like to keep her happy when she visits).