This Saturday would be the last Brew Review of 2012. What would be appropriate? Another Christmas beer? A winter warmer? A Kölsch perhaps. Nope. I threw all that out the window. Tonight we will partake of a beer that I heard quite a bit about on the beer forums. It’s a stout, so I got that going for me. Gunga galunga.
The last beer of the year is Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout Nitro. I know that adding lactose, or milk sugar in the brewing process yields a sweeter beer, and in this case a sweeter stout. That’s interesting on one level. This Left Hand Milk Stout is also a nitro beer, like a Guinness. That’s interesting. And finally, there’s no widget. Now that’s like frikkin’ magic!
How do they accomplish this feat?
Instead of using a device known as a “widget” to recreate that effect in the bottle, Left Hand spent two and half years and hundreds of thousands of dollars figuring out another way to gas its beer with a blend of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. How Left Hand did it is a secret. “We thought about taking out a patent on that process,” says Chris Lennert, vice president of operations for the Longmont-based brewery. “But then our process would become public and other people would be able to figure it out.”
All he’ll say is that the gasses are added throughout the process, “from the filtration to the fermentation to the packaging.”
I’ve had enough Guinnesses in my time that I’m fully familiar with the taste of that quintessential stout. I really wanted to compare the taste of the LH Nitro with what I remembered of Guinness. I also wanted to enjoy the style without having to really worry about the effects of alcohol on my keyboarding abilities, and at 6%, this would be just about perfect. Safe and still “in season” if that’s what you’re thinking.
I was gifted with a couple of beer glasses for Christmas and thought that tonight would be the perfect time to break in one of them. They are of the English pint variety, but slightly bigger. Without going into too much detail, the regular English pint holds 16 ounces to the rim. The Imperial English pint, or nonic, holds 20 ounces to the rim and the glasses are tagged with a crown and line denoting a legal pour. The ones that I received hold 18 ounces to the rim and are tagged with a crown, but line. I don’t know what their official classification is but hell, they hold a lot of beer.
There are special instructions on how to pure this nitro stout printed on the label complete with QR code, which you can scan and be shown a how-to video on pouring the beer. The pour is basically an upside-down or bottle inversion pour. Kinda scary knowing my tendency to spill and soil clothing as well as surroundings. The new pint glass should take care of that.
I found that the beer was bottled on 10/3/12 which puts it within the realm of consumption. I was quite eager to dive into this beer and started salivating like a Pavlov dog as soon as the cap was popped.
I poured the beer using the above method and was presented with the same cascade scene. Black at the bottom with brown bubbles cascading down. The liquid was as black as you could get, no light penetrated the glass. The head was a nice and thick with a beige color and there wasn’t very much of it, even after that super aggressive pour. The aroma was mild and almost imperceptible.
The first sip gave a nice, rather thick body and some sweetness and the swallow had that familiar bite of dark roasted malt. It was absolutely delicious. This early in the glass, I could not pick up any notes of chocolate or coffee or any other flavors that may accompany a stout. This was good, nicely sweet, deliciously roasted stout.
The beer was so smooth that I wondered if it had any carbonation in it or if nitrogen was its only charging agent. Another examination under the light revealed nothing. Perhaps it was only nitrogen as the beer was exceedingly smooth and rich. Almost like a stout phosphate. Apparently it’s a non-issue with the folks as this is Left Hand’s most popular beer. The nitro is probably the primary factor which made this beer so creamy and smooth. I should have picked up a sixer of regular LeftHand Milk stout and compared the two side by side. The BeerTemple guy has this already covered in the video below.
It’s a little bit difficult to describe this beer in any great detail. It’s a stout with that somewhat dry roasted back flavor, but the smoothness and creaminess set this one apart. What made it so good to taste? The nitrogen? That probably had big hand in the taste. The lactose? This was added in the perfect amount to give it that nice sweetness. The roasted malts? Again, they chose the perfect blend of dark roasted malts. Not too bitter or raspy and no alien flavors. Just good, clean, stouty malts.
The beer drinks like a beer that you could sit down with for hours and hours. The 6% still puts this beer at the high end of the BJCP spec and conforms perfectly to all the other characteristics. And lacing? Hell, that ain’t lacing. It was like a foam rug down the back side of the glass. Kind of a coating of spray foam insulation. I thoroughly enjoyed this first glassful right down to the last sip. (Just watching all that foam run down the inside of the freshly drained glass was a show in itself.)
I couldn’t find out whether this beer will be available as a seasonal, regular release, or special release. I’d say that if you can find it on the shelf at your LBS, buy it now, drink it and then watch the shelves throughout the year.
I can safely say that this is the best tasting stout I’ve had to date. The sweetness and the velvety smoothness nail it for me. The ABV is low enough that it’s not a direct frontal assault on the brain cells and quite a few could be had without any deleterious effects on one’s behavior or rational thinking. The taste of this beer could be considered as addictive as a video game. So much fun, so much to see and watch and so damn good to drink.
Taste: Full, creamy, sweet and robust. Delicious.
Smoothness: Sliding down a freshly waxed hood on a coating of shaving cream.
Drinkability: Bring ‘em on!
Bang for the buck: Comparable to other craft beers.
Amount paid: $10.99
Get it again? Abso-frikkin’-lutely.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: (Pour) Kinda looks like chocolate milk. (sip) Hint of coffee but chocolate is there too. (sip) I get the sweet but I’m getting a lot of coffee. (sip) If it had more of a chocolate taste I’d like it better. (Yeah, it’s not about the beer, it’s about the chocolate.)
Left Hand Brewpub pour demonstration [1:33]
Left Hand’s Milk Stout Nitro vs. their regular milk stout [15:37] – The CraftBeerTemple guy