Beer Review 0331: Heavy Seas Siren Noire Imperial Stout

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Heavy Seas/Clipper City Brewing Company brews beer in Baltimore, Maryland, and this is the first beer from the northeast brewery that I have formally reviewed.

The story of Heavy Seas starts out with Hugh Sisson, a prospective stage actor and director. Plans were afoot for Mr. Sisson to attend the University of Virginia and attain his master’s degree in theatre, but his father, Albert, opened a new business: a tavern. He convinced his son to come work with him; Hugh thought it would be a short-term career shift, but when he got there, his dad gave him the keys and told him not to mess it up.

The tavern focused on imported beers and then eventually local craft beers, and by the mid-80’s, Hugh, now rejoined by his father, began to convert the bar into a brewpub. But first, there was some legal wrangling that had to take place, and Mr. Sisson successfully lobbied the state of Maryland to legalize brewpubs.

After the foray into a brewpub, Hugh set his sights on the production side, and started Clipper City Brewing. While there, another brewery, Oxford, was absorbed — then, in 2003, a third brand was created: Heavy Seas.

Hugh Sisson kind of sounds like that “most interesting man in the world…” guy…

Siren Noire is a limited release Imperial Stout that has been aged for three weeks (yes, a scant three weeks) in bourbon barrels. The beer is also brewed with chocolate nibs and vanilla beans. Coming in at 9.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are just 18. Typically, you see beers that are aged in bourbon barrels for months or even years at a time — let’s see what a very short time in the barrel can do for a beer.

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The pour made for a small, very thin cover of light tan head, which was soapy and faded away nearly as soon as you could set the bottle down. The color of the brew was a very dark chocolate brown, and it wasn’t completely opaque as I could clearly see the outline of a bright light through it. The body was clear, free of sediment, and the lacing wasn’t in enough quantity or quality to merit mention.

On the nose, this one is all chocolate…at first. The chocolate is a nice blend of both milk and dark, along with some sweet caramel and a hint of vanilla from the beans and/or the barrel aging. But lingering in the background was the unmistakable scent of wet dog, and it only grew as the beer warmed, even turning fairly metallic after spending about fifteen minutes in the glass. Not appealing at all; as I took sips, I made an effort to hold my breath.

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The flavors are actually quite pleasant — creamy, fudge-like chocolate opens then transitions into a dark fruit middle; raisins, figs, and plums, along with a little grape jam for good measure. Then, the finish comes on with a vanilla that almost tastes more like white chocolate with a wash of sweetness, then a bittersweet chocolate and the most subtle hint of bourbon you could imagine. The alcohol is completely hidden, and the beer is medium-bodied at best, with a foamy mouthfeel and soft carbonation. At times, this really felt like I had a Dr. Pepper soda in my mouth, especially in the middle of the taste and the swallow.

The aroma on this beer flat out sucks but the taste is pretty good. However, that doesn’t save things, at all — while the chocolate and vanilla flavors are decent, we learn that three weeks in a barrel doesn’t add much character to this beer. Nice try, but disappointing. The only really great thing this brew has going for it is the cheap price.

Heavy Seas Siren Noire Imperial Stout, 77 points. Price: $5.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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