Friday, January 20, 2006

Of "bombers" and Two Brothers Northwind Imperial Stout.

There was a time when the allure of the 22-oz “bomber” bottle was lost one me, perhaps owing to an almost religious commitment to avoiding trendy advocacies of any sort, but I must admit that after all these years, I’m beginning to see the attraction.

Perhaps this owes to deeply repressed memories of backseat, paper-bagged quart bottles of beer brands I’d sooner not mention without the safety net of a certified shrink and his leather couch.

Something about a nice, big bottle filled with beer … but now, of course, the bottle’s strictly for pouring into a clean glass, not cradling directly to my lips, draining and tossing out the window at a passing street sign.

Not that I ever sanctioned that sort of activity, at least while sober.

Last night, returning home from a New Albany city council meeting and in need of a jar or two to keep me company while writing, I turned to a bomber of Two Brothers Northwind Imperial Stout.

Readers who know me well can attest to my predilection for Imperial Stout, the blackest beauty of all the strong ales, one packing a full deck of flavors into one glass while at the same time varying widely in strength (from low abv’s in the 7% range all the way to 11%, and sometimes beyond).

Viscosity always is high, and mouth-feel broad. Imperial Stouts can be intensely fruity, roasted, sweet and dry all in the course of a single serving.

I find the historical connections between Imperial Stout and its more elusive cousin, Baltic Porter, to be fascinating, and it has long been my opinion that there are more than a few cross-currents between these two styles and Bavaria’s beloved Doppelbock.

As a style that is innately strong, Imperial Stout has occupied a front-row seat in the market-driving field of extreme microbrews, with Rogue’s classic Russian Imperial Stout and Avery’s “The Czar” springing to mind during any discussion of the wonders of innovative excess. Both these are at the highest end of intensity and alcohol content.

The amazing and imported A. le Coq Double Imperial Stout deserves a posting of its own, as it incorporates history, intensity and gravity in a one delicious serving.

It’s worth remembering, though, that for many of us, Samuel Smith Imperial Stout served as our introduction to the genre, and it’s a relatively placid 7% abv. I drank a 12-oz SSIS recently, and enjoyed the textbook flavor, which manages to taste positively “light” compared with the Rogue and the Avery.

My last experience with Two Brothers Northwind Imperial Stout was during Gravity Head a couple of years ago, when our keg of Northwind, while drinkable, had a sour edge that didn’t really belong.

Consequently, I was wary when opening last night’s bomber, but happily, there were no flaws.

Northwind comes in at 8.5% abv, and in all significant respects it maintains this middle ground approach, drinking lighter than its alcohol, but having a pleasant mouthfeel and a powerful roastiness. The broad tableau of hints and nuances appropriate for the style is muted here, and yet the drinkability is high, and I must admit that it was a worthy accompaniment to tasks requiring thought and reasoning – the same sized bottle of “The Czar” would have wiped me clean long before the work was finished.

I’d rate Northwind as solid, and a good introduction to microbrewed Imperial Stout for those unfamiliar with the style.

Yes, it will be on sale at Rich O’s some time next week. How do you think I got the bottle for this review?

Oh, and rest easy -- the empty bottle went into the recycling bin after decanting.


jbarthold said...

I recently tried the Northwind Stout, and while not in the same league as more established brands, it must be noted that the PRICE is right...several buck cheaper per bomber than its Avery equivalent..that must be factored into one's purchase/taste...and for me, it seals the deal

Jeff Smith said...
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