- Mike Riedel
It's not often that I get a chance to try two fresh batches of the same beer made two different ways. This week, I got the opportunity to try Proper Brewing Co.'s Grand Sláinte imperial stout and its brother, Monolith, which is the same beer in grenache and rye whiskey barrels.
Grand Sláinte: This oatmeal imperial stout is an almost impenetrably black beer that shows slight mahogany highlights at its base; trying to coax a head from the heavily viscous brew required a long, tall pour. Once in the glass, the head shone brilliant bright brass beads. The aroma is medium in intensity; it leads with a whiff of chocolate-chip cookie dough that is quickly displaced by moderately smoky cocoa and hints of chocolate and molasses, with slight alcohol overtones as well.
The flavor is a seamless blend of tart baker's chocolate and subdued black coffee. As those flavors mellow, subtle molasses and milk chocolate emerge, with a bit of smoke toward the end; modest alcohol overtones ride aloft. The result is a well-balanced blend of sweet and bitter. The finish reveals a modest hit of smoke and cocoa; lingering hints of char and modestly bitter chocolate flavors seem to stretch on for a good while. The mouthfeel is on point, and the beer's texture is full bodied and creamy, though somewhat slick, with lightly gassed and textured carbonation.
Overall: What an incredibly enjoyable beer. It's got depth, complexity, body and character; it's plenty bold, and doesn't sacrifice any of these things in the name of anything gimmicky. It doesn't redefine the style, but man oh man, I'm pretty sure this 8.5% stout nails whatever it set out to do.
Monolith: For this beer, the minds at Proper took the aforementioned Grand Sláinte and aged it six months in Grenache, followed by rye whiskey barrels. An aggressive-ish pour didn't do a whole lot at all for a head; the copper beadlets took on a more coffee-tinged foam hue that left a tiny tan ring on top.
This beer was made at barrel strength, meaning that it is as it was in the barrel. No blending of fresh imperial stout was added to stretch and mellow the beer. There's nice bourbon, vanilla and oak in the nose, with some coffee as well. There's a faint amount of booze, and quite a bit of sweetness. This beer had only been in the bottle a few days upon my sampling, and its intensity was still shining strong.
The taste starts off with a rich roasted coffee flavor and a bit of chocolate, until mid-sip when the depth of the barrels starts to come through. Pleasant whiskey flavors emerge, adding some spicy rye notes with added hints of tart vinous-like qualities. I get a little plain cake doughnut on the back end, too, which is something that is rare in this style. The alcohol is exceptionally well-hidden, no doubt helped by the subtle alcohol from the original base beer. Although I don't taste much alcohol, I sure do feel it. The mouthfeel isn't as round as the Grand Sláinte, but the whiskey flavors more than make up for it.
Overall: Having an imperial stout with a lower-than-typical (but still within style) alcohol benefits this barrel strength version immensely. It keeps the overall booziness down to an enjoyable 10.2%, maintaining high drinkability that you don't often find in big-ass beers like these.
If you can, try these back-to-back and compare them like I did; beer-drinking in the name of science is super fun! Grand Sláinte comes in 16 ounce cans, while Monolith is in an appropriately tall 22 ounce bottle, and both are available at Proper Brewing now. As always, cheers!