Fearful Symmetries

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05 November, 2015

Roll Out the Barrel: Stag #9 by August Schell Brewing Company



I'll say right up front that I have a lot of respect for August Schell Brewing Company. While I don't think every beer they brew is fantastic, I highly appreciate their willingness to stick to their guns. It is said that you dance with the one that brung ya and after 150 or so years of German-influenced brewing tradition Schell hasn't abandoned it in order to be able to slap "IPA" onto bottles, have a line of lambics, or have an excuse to throw a release party for a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout called something like Tyr or Fimbulwinter or Loki's Pride.

Instead they adopted the slogan "German Craft Beer" and meld Teutonic tradition with contemporary tastes. The Noble Star series delves into the sour world of the Berliner Weisse with a variety of takes on the style; hopheads get the Fresh Hop series – a pilsner each autumn that is brewed with a single variety of freshly picked hops; they also got Arminius last year, a hoppy lager (it didn't do very well as was discontinued); and earlier this year the ninth entry in the limited release Stag Series was a barrel-aged lager.

Stag #9 is a dark lager that was aged in American whiskey barrels which sat for a prolonged period of time in the brewery's original lagering caves.

The beer pours a deep, deep mahogany. So deep, in fact, that it appears jet. It's the kind of beer you'd expect to be expelled from non-Euclidian taps at the taverns of R'lyeh. Holding my glass up to the light and craning my neck, I caught a shallow spot in the glass and found the beer to be clear. My pour produced a good two fingers of dense, frothy foam. I tried as best I could to check out the effervescence beneath the head but failed.

As has always been my experience with barrel-aged beers (does anyone else remember the barrel-aged Night Train that O'so poured at Jan's Friendly during the very first Madison Craft Beer Week? Gott im Himmel! That stuff could fell a horse.), I smell the booze first and Stag #9 was no different. It had a moderate whiskey aroma that was kind enough to let some of the dunkles come through. Ergo I also caught the scent of roasted malt as well which was like coffee. I suppose this shouldn't have been a surprise as the beer is a mere 7.7% A.B.V.

That whiskey came through in the taste as well. But again, it was moderated by the grainy tastes which gave coffee and dark chocolate flavors as well as something nutty/woody underneath. There was a distinct bitterness from the dark grain too, as with a porter. Dark lager is perhaps a better descriptor for this than dunkles as those German brews generally don't have that bitterness. The beer had a medium body and was rather smooth although the carbonation could also be tasted.

As the whiskey and grain flavors receded, a dry finish was revealed with carbonation, the bitter grain flavor, and a touch of herbal hops all conspiring together. I also caught a little bit of heat from the booze. There were sheets of Schaumhaftvermoegen to be seen all around my chalice.

The dark lager/dunkles is one of my favorite beer styles because it highlights the earthy, Maillard reactiony side of roasted malt flavor rather than the sweeter, toffee tastes of caramelization. Coffee and dark chocolate flavors are in abundance here but also present is a rather sharp, burnt malt bitterness. (Black Patent malt, perhaps?) I enjoyed how the various malt flavors and the whiskey were all in harmony with none overcoming the others. As I noted above, Stag #9 is 7.7% A.B.V. so this is not a rich, viscous imperial stout that pours like motor oil. Being a lager, it is clean and more reserved, in a sense. Too much whiskey could easily have crowded out the malt. Still, Stag #9 has some big, bold flavors and I thoroughly enjoyed this re-working of a favorite style.

Junk food pairing: If you have any Stag #9 then drink it sooner rather than later. (Whole Foods in Madison had six packs for $7.99 recently – a steal.) And when you do drink it, pair it with the bold flavors of Snyder's of Hanover's Pumpernickel & Onion pretzels with a potent brown senf to assert the food's presence. Your tongue will be overloaded with heady, roasted grain goodness.

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|| Palmer, 4:07 PM

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