Beer Review 0524: Bell’s Cherry Stout

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Returning for 2013 is Bell’s Brewery Cherry Stout, a beer brewed with 100% Montmorency cherries, all grown in Traverse City, Michigan — last year, the beer wasn’t able to be made because of a soft cherry crop.

Bell’s (Kalamazoo, Michigan) 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.

Montmorency cherries are employed in this beer because they are a tart variety, and balance out sweetness from the malt bill. Coming in at 7% ABV (alcohol by volume), Cherry Stout is only available in the winter and comes in six-packs. I’ve often found this beer a little hard to find, so you might have to do some searching for it, especially if you don’t live near the state of Michigan.

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The pour draws a small, dark tan head that is creamy in texture but quickly disappears. Color is pitch black; as I poured, I could see a little hint of red in the beer as it went into the glass, and the very edges are reddish when held to light. It’s so dark that I couldn’t tell if the body was cloudy or not — the bottle did have some yeast dregs. There weren’t any noticeable particles or sediment floating about. Lacing was fair, only leaving a small trail of foam here and there.

I found the nose to be a wonderful mix of solid, creamy dark chocolate with a subtle undercurrent of tart cherries. These are the dominant aromas, but the malts also showcase some general roasted and toasted tones, a bit of black coffee, and it just smells overall creamy. It’s a deep aroma but not in a very pungent way.

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Cherry Stout is surprisingly tart, in a way that seems to take some of the oomph away from the stout portion of the beer; up front are lots of tart cherries, but they aren’t sour or even mouth puckering. The tartness quickly mixes with a deep note of decadent dark chocolate, and these flavors play well all through the middle of the taste, throwing in hints of black coffee. The finish brings on a touch more tartness, slightly acidic, which entertains an additional slightly acidic dark chocolate. The finish is long, and as it unwinds, the chocolate is replaced with general toasted notes and actual burnt toast. I’d classify this beer as between light and medium-bodied, believe it or not, and the mouthfeel is medium, quite foamy when swirled around the tongue and drying thanks to the tart cherries.

One big plus to Bell’s take on a Cherry Stout: it’s not medicinal. The overwhelming majority of beers that use cherries turn out to be medicinal; this, thankfully, is not. That said, I think the base beer here is probably quite incredible and the cherries seem to dial it down a little too much. And I’m not a big fan of burnt toast flavors, so it loses me after the dark chocolate fades. Still, for a good moment, this is like a chocolate covered cherry in your mouth, and that’s a very good thing. Check it out.

Bell’s Cherry Stout, 87 points. Price: $2.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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