Beer Review 0400: Brooklyn Black Ops Russian Imperial Stout (2012)
Review #400! When I reach the milestone reviews, I like to pull a showstopper out. For #400, I’m reviewing a beer that does not exist.
Well, that’s what Brooklyn Brewery’s (Brooklyn, New York) clever marketing would have you believe. Black Ops, a Russian Imperial Stout, isn’t listed on their website and the back of the bottle says the beer doesn’t exist — the only way to get official information about it is to either Google it or have the beer. Brooklyn hide information about Black Ops on their website.
So, this beer that doesn’t exist, what is it? It’s a bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout that is bottle conditioned with champagne yeast. The aging takes just four months; the beer is then bottled flat and dosed with the champagne yeast to undergo carbonation in the bottle. Why doesn’t this beer exist? Well, it’s pretty limited — only 12,000 bottles are made each year, and the bottles are numbered.
Each year, the ABV (alcohol by volume) varies. Up for review today is the 2012 edition, which clocks in at 10.5% ABV, the lowest of the five years this beer has existed.
The pour serves up a large, dark tan head, frothy and very fizzy. It dissipates fast, but never completely disappears, leaving behind a thin cover. The beer is pitch black in color, but does have some lighter brown edges when swirled in bright light. As I poured, I noted that the body did look cloudy, which is to be expected for a bottle conditioned beer, but I didn’t notice any significant particles or sediment. Lacing is sparse, hardly leaving behind a trace of suds.
The first thing my nose picked out was the champagne yeast, which accents the 10.5% ABV into a large note of alcohol. While it dominates the early aroma, everything else does get a turn to shine — there’s plenty of dark chocolate and coffee, and don’t forget the bourbon barrel. As the drink warms, the bourbon pushes to the front and the alcohol fades, giving off sweet vanilla and some mild toasted bread. The champagne yeast also lends a bit of funk, which I’m not so sure about…
On the palate, there’s a wash of bourbon, vanilla, and mild chocolate up front. Immediately noticeable is the thin body — we’re talking super thin, one step up from a lager. The bourbon is powerful initially, but it tones down in the middle of the taste, where that champagne dryness starts to assert itself, along with black coffee and dark chocolate. The finish is bittersweet with notes of espresso, bakers chocolate, and dark fruits, which really get a kick from the dry yeast. Nowhere to be found is the booming note of alcohol found on the nose. The thin body is quite foamy, and I’d call this beer just medium-bodied, because it lacks the texture.
Black Ops is a very nice beer that is a unique change of pace. The champagne yeast plays well with the barrel flavors, but with the thin mouthfeel, I’m not wowed. This would be a killer beer that would probably rate 95+ points had the mouthfeel been at least medium — in my opinion, while this has excellent flavor and aroma, the texture holds this back from being a classic beer. You should try it at least once just to say you’ve had it.
Cheers to 400 reviews! 500, here I come!
Brooklyn Black Ops Russian Imperial Stout (2012), 92 points. Price: $21.99 US for one 750 ml. corked & caged bottle.