Beer Review 0410: Olde Hickory 2013 Imperial Stout

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Olde Hickory Brewing is located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Hickory, North Carolina. Founded in 1994 by Steven Lyerly and Jason Yates, production started on a seven barrel system and quickly outgrew, forcing upgrades.

Still, this brewery isn’t a giant mega facility, instead choosing to make beer in small batches, 800 gallons or less at a time. Just to show you how small batch Olde Hickory are, all of their bottled offerings (as of this writing, the brewery only produces 22 oz. bomber size bottles and few scattered 750 ml containers) are hand dated. Distribution is limited to Tennessee and North Carolina, so most of my readers might have trouble finding anything Olde Hickory.

Olde Hickory’s Imperial Stout is released once per year, and is brewed with honey. Coming in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume), the IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are high, registering 84. The hops used are Columbus, Cluster, Centennial, and Cascade. All the bottles are wax sealed and have a year of vintage stamped in.

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The pour issued a small, soapy, dark tan head that quickly diminished. The beer itself is dark black in color, right on for an Imperial Stout, opaque with just a hint of some lighter brown edges. The body is too dark to give an opinion on particles or sediment, but I’m going to say there wasn’t any, as the pour looked clear. Lacing was good, leaving thin patches of dark brown suds.

On the nose, this beer surprised with a substantial amount of grape aroma — it’s dark fruit/light jam all at once. It almost has the same notes as sparkling grape juice; there’s also plenty of dark chocolate to be had, as well as some creamy milk chocolate. A dark, roasted note of coffee plays into the hop bitterness well, which features some grapefruit rind as well as a hint of pine. This definitely smells like a big beer, but there’s no alcohol to be found, which is quite impressive. As it warms, the chocolate becomes much more prominent, and the coffee turns into more of a licorice.

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And the taste pretty much follows the nose, which certainly isn’t a bad thing: there’s a really wild grape flavor on the initial sip, which is dark fruity and Concord jam/sparkling juice all at once; this leads to a roasted, dark chocolate middle of the mouth featuring our old friends coffee and lots of pine bitterness. It really dries out the mouth in the middle, leading to a finish that just brings everything together nicely for a final bow: the grape, which is now verging on raisin; the dark chocolate, which stirs into the black coffee to form a rich, solid base, and a salty hop bitterness that offers a sounding board to the silky mouthfeel. Full-bodied, there’s no alcohol presence other than a gentle warmth in the body while drinking.

Olde Hickory’s Imperial Stout is an outstanding bottle, characterized mainly by the wonderful and complex grape flavors, and the solid backbone of the expected coffee and chocolate. There’s also a wallop of bitterness to be had, and it plays great with the mouthfeel and lack of alcohol note. If that bitterness weren’t here, you’d be chugging this brew, which would probably be a bad thing. Solid, which is exactly what I expected from Olde Hickory.

Olde Hickory 2013 Imperial Stout, 93 points. Price: $12.00 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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