Beer Review 0306: Great Lakes Blackout Stout

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Every so often, you will run across a beer inspired by an actual event. Great Lakes Blackout Stout fits that description, in more ways than one.

Remember the blackout of 2003? If you don’t, here’s a refresh: on August 14, 2003, a power outage occurred at 4:10 pm, affecting parts of the northeast and midwestern United States, and parts of Canada. At the time, it was the second most widespread blackout in history — power was restored to some by 11 p.m. that same day, but many didn’t get the juice back until two days later. If you do some poking around on the interweb, you’ll find some stunning satellite photos taken the night of the blackout, placed side-by-side with a picture of the night before when there was power.

Great Lakes (Cleveland, Ohio) is a brewery with a conscience — those three squiggly lines on their label represent their “triple bottom line,” running their business on responsible economic, social, and environmental practices, all whilst profiting. It also represents beer’s main ingredient: water. Point being, it only makes sense that Great Lakes would want to name a beer after an event in history that brought neighbors together in a time of crisis.

Blackout Stout is a seasonal beer, available each November-January. Registering 9% ABV (alcohol by volume), this beer is brewed in the style of a Russian Imperial Stout and contains a curious hop: Simcoe. The IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are 50.

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Release from bottle gave up a small, light tan, creamy head, which quickly diminished. The beer wasn’t quite pitch black like a traditional Imperial Stout; instead, when held to light, this one is actually a dark ruby red, and lighter brown around the edges. The brew is clear in body, free of particles and sediment, and the lacing left behind was good, leaving thin and solid sheets behind my sips.

The aromatics start off on an unusual note; yes, there’s the typical dark chocolate, but there’s also a sour cherry note going on that while isn’t exactly pleasant, isn’t off-putting, either. The cherry aroma fades the more you dig your nose in, and I noticed it faded nearly completely as the drink warmed. Behind it are layers of black coffee with a touch of smoke, and a light hop presence that gives off some grapefruit. And, as it warmed, a toasted bread scent came out.

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Tasting, there’s dark chocolate and a punch of grape on the initial impression, followed by a puff of smoke and a generous amount of coffee. In the middle of the taste, the chocolate starts to layer up, showing sweet to dark, and the finish gives a dash of grapefruit, some light coffee, and a load of dark chocolate. The hops provide a light bitterness, which gives Blackout Stout a great bittersweet conclusion. While the beer is full-bodied, the mouthfeel is more on the medium end, creamy and lightly drying.

This beer is not nearly as hoppy as advertised. Instead, we’ve got an Imperial Stout that has good flavors and a well hidden alcohol content. Nice and simple, this is an easily accessible Imperial in terms of drinkability.

Great Lakes Blackout Stout, 90 points. Price: $9.99 US for a four pack.

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