Beer Review 0291: Bell’s Expedition Stout

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We’ve had a few reviews from Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, Michigan) recently — wintertime is peak release season for the brewery, when they put out a host of Stouts and other offerings, culminating with a late January release of the widely acclaimed Hopslam (which I rated 100 points).

Bell’s was founded by Larry Bell in 1983 — originally, Bell’s was a homebrew supply shop. But the itch to create beer was there (with all that homebrew equipment, who could blame them) and the actual brewery portion of the company fired up with the initial batches brewed in 15-gallon soup pots.

The first beer was sold in September 1985; originally self distributed by Mr. Bell and his (then) nine employees, the company grew to produce 500 barrels in 1989; and in 1993, the brewery became the first in Michigan to open an onsite pub.

Today, Bell’s has a capacity of more than 500,000 barrels, and the company has two different production facilities.

Expedition Stout is one of the first takes on a Russian Imperial Stout from a United States brewery. This beer is built for aging, and Bell’s says the shelf life is unlimited. The ABV (alcohol by volume) is 10.5%, so it is indeed a big beer — it is intended to be immensely bitter in the early months, but with age, the flavors will transition and the bitterness will become faded. We’re not going to let this bottle age; perhaps for a future Redux Review, we’ll look at this one again. Sometimes these big Stouts can be just as tasty fresh as aged.

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Out of the bottle, Expedition Stout produced an average size, creamy and lasting dark tan head. The beer was pitch black in color, with some lighter brown edges when held to the light. The liquid was so dark, I couldn’t tell if any particles or sediment were present — but if I had to guess, I’d say this is a filtered brew. It poured muddy from the bottle, indicating this will be a thick mouthfeel. Lacing was top-notch, leaving tiny bubbled thin tan sheets in the wake of each sip.

The aromatics were complex, with a ton of chocolate and coffee malt, with just a puff of smoke. While this is over-the-top malt, there was a nice piney hop note; of course, there were also plenty of dark fruits, prominently prunes and the grape note that is found in so many of these Imperial Stouts was there lingering, too. I even picked up some tart cherry and licorice. To my nose, this was a pungent and bold brew, introducing some burnt coffee as it warmed.

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On the palate, you’re hit first with dark chocolate, prunes, and ripe grape; immediately, I noticed the creamy, thick mouthfeel. This initial flavor profile transitions into some thick and hearty layers of dark chocolate, coupled with black coffee. A gentle wave of smoke leads to the finish, bringing on coffee and a ton of bitterness. And by ton, I mean a giant wall that you smack running full speed. Wow. It’s almost overwhelming, and it completely dries out the palate. There is some alcohol present, but for this big of a beer being this fresh, it’s not too bad. Full-bodied, for sure, and a thick, viscous mouthfeel.

Expedition Stout is a tasty beer up until the finish, when things start to go awry. That being said, Bell’s did say that this was extremely bitter when fresh, and suggests you age it. But my big question is: How much aging would one have to do to get that much bitterness out of this beer? I’m not sure it can be done…but I’ll stash a bottle away and try, and you owe it to yourself to do the same, and to try one fresh.

Bell’s Expedition Stout, 92 points. Price: $2.99 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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