Beer Review 0541: Hi-Wire Strongman Coffee Milk Stout

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Hi-Wire Brewing have taken over the old Craggie Brewery location in Asheville, North Carolina, and have just started producing beer. The theme of the brewery is the circus, which they feel embodies the fun, authenticity, and creativity of craft beer.

Only a few months in, Hi-Wire have a dedicated year-round lineup it calls “Main Attraction” beers — a Pale Ale, IPA, Lager, and Brown Ale, which we have reviewed. (see Bed Of Nails Brown Ale, 92 points.) For a new brewery, Hi-Wire are on point when it comes to bottling — they pretty much bottle everything they make in six-packs, and that now includes seasonal releases. In fact, they invented special packaging for their seasonal beers that uses cut out windows to display the actual bottles in the boxes, eliminating the need for four different facings for four different seasons.

Hi-Wire’s winter seasonal is a Coffee Milk Stout, and is inspired by their head brewer’s cafe con leche-fueled travels to Key West, Florida. The beer is brewed with cold-extracted local coffee from nearby Dynamite Roasting Company, and is added to the beer post fermentation. Strongman comes in at 5.3% ABV (alcohol by volume).

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The pour produced absolutely zero head. When was the last time I said that about a beer? It’s been a long, long time! The color was dark out of light, and it’s still dark in light, but the actual color is ruby red, like a soda. Although marked as “unfiltered” on the bottle, the body is clear, and features no particles or sediment. Lacing did form, even without a head — there were small, wispy bits of foam clinging to the glass as I sampled.

On the nose, it’s all coffee, all the time — Strongman, indeed. Layer upon layer of dark, sweetened coffee, which opens up as it warms to present more delicate and nuanced notes of smoke, dark chocolate, creamer, and red berries. It’s simple, but good.

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If you’ve ever wanted beer for breakfast, this is a perfect candidate. Coffee and a hint of berries explode on the palate, until a deep rumble of coffee completely takes over, sweet and thick, with supporting notes of dark chocolate and subtle raspberries. I wouldn’t exactly call it sugary sweet, but there is a definite loss of sweetness on the swallow, which brings on the finish with another thick slab of coffee, this time bittersweet, insanely dark, and slightly burnt. Halfway through the glass and I’m feeling the caffeine kick, and I’m wondering why they didn’t list a caffeine content right beside the ABV. Strongman is medium-bodied but full-flavored, with a thin, creamy mouthfeel.

Does this beer taste good? Why, yes, it certainly does, but two thoughts for you and I to ponder: The overwhelming majority (read: nearly all) of the flavor comes from the coffee here, so isn’t that the responsibility of the coffee roaster? I couldn’t begin to tell you anything about the base beer underneath these coffee beans. Secondly, this beer is completely void of any head…could there be so much coffee dosed in that this beer is, perhaps, mostly coffee? I’m not exactly sure of the technical aspects behind “cold-extracted” and “added post fermentation,” but something about this brew doesn’t sit right. It’s a good drink, but you’ll have to dig coffee and even then you’ll be one and done. If this is the last beer of the night, you might be up past your intended bedtime.

Hi-Wire Strongman Coffee Milk Stout, 84 points. Price: $2.49 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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