20 January 2010

Short's Mystery Oatmeal Stout

Short's Mystery Oatmeal Stout (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
12.5% ABV

So the time has come to attempt again that failure of a beer review that I had earlier with Short's Mystery Stout. Twelve and a half percent ABV, got it. Ready and willing to drink the beer with that in mind, and I've let it warm for awhile before popping the cap.

Pours dark black, completely opaque, with a thin brown head that dissipates pretty quickly. Considering the alcohol, I'm surprised it had any head at all. High marks there. Smells of toffee, chocolate, hints of coffee. Very dry aromatics, lots of chocolate malt. Some sweetness like chocolate-covered cherries, with just a hint of the alcohol that is to come.

The flavor? Well, holy fuck, first of all there's the alcohol. Even knowing what a bomb this thing was going to be, the Mystery Stout is just really, really hot. Strong alcoholic phenols are present in the front, middle, and finish of this beer. Everything else works in conjunction with that basic fact. Peering with my tastebuds (can tastebuds peer? Probably not.) beneath the astringency I get a nice dry flavor, lots of oats and a great deal of that chocolate malt.

Drinking through this glass, I'm amazed mostly at the technical abilities of Joe Short and his brewery team. Just getting a beer to 12.5% ABV is difficult, much less one with this kind of smoothness and drinkability -- the alcohol is present but never cloying, the dryness is dominant but balanced with a malty sweetness. This was obviously a very difficult beer to brew, and just getting it into my glass is an achievement worth honoring.

But is it good? This isn't on the same scale as something like Dark Lord or World Wide Stout, which have similarly insane alcohol but balance that with an overabundance of malt which create a thick-bodied experience of a beer. This doesn't have that kind of complexity: the main feature of this beer is the alcoholic phenols, with the malty dryness and the relatively-thin body making this "drinkable" and "accessible" in the way that a macro-drinker would think of those terms. Which isn't at all a negative, as Short's Mystery Stout is one super-high-gravity beer that you could actually hand to someone whose only experience of beer was macro stuff and expect them to be able to choke it down.

I find myself having complex emotions about this beer. I don't know if, in my heart of hearts, I find this beer to be a bit too one-note, too astringent, too over-the-top without having the kind of complexity that makes those flaws virtues. But on the other hand, I enjoy drinking this, and find it smooth and clean for the most part. Do I enjoy this beer more than I admire it, or do I admire it more than I enjoy it? Certainly a multidimensional kind of thought process, one that I'll definitely be examining more as I drink more beers of this kind.

I may end up buying a six-pack of these and aging them for a hell of a long time. Like, drinking one a year until they're gone.

My overall BA rating: 4.4/5

(My score is my score, numbers picked because I needed to put something down to post the review. But the words in this case are far more important than the numbers. Take that as you will.)

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