A Vertical Tasting of Dark Yumminess

Three different years of Southern Tier’s Imperial Crème Brulee Stout – 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Yes, I am stealing a concept from wine drinkers – the idea of vertical tasting, or tasting several years of the same brew.

In this case it was three bomber bottles of a delicious milk stout from Southern Tier Brewing Co. of Lakewood, N.Y. They call it Imperial Crème Brulee. It’s one of the four beers in what the brewery calls its “Blackwater Series,” and is brewed with four malts, two hops, lactose sugar and vanilla beans.

A friend had set aside a couple bottles, and then snagged a 2013 just to compare the three.

We started with the oldest first, a 2010 Imperial Crème Brulee: Big, bold caramel flavor, followed by strong burnt flavor. As it warms, the vanilla becomes more prominent. But it was at first completely overwhelmed by the burnt caramel. It poured still. It was listed as a 10 percent brew. Overall: Potent juju!

Next was the 2012: Wow! This is a completely different beer. Softer, subdued. Whereas 2010 blasted from the start with caramel and then a big burnt flavor, with this there’s a definite sweetness, then the caramel creeps in and swirls across the palate, followed by a soupcon of burnt flavor, and then hops. In fact, a very distinct hop bite lingers on the palate at the end. Nice burst of carbonation. All the same ingredients as the 2010 batch, but this one weighs in at 9.6 percent alcohol.

2013: Distinct Belgian lacing on the glass, which was missing on the earlier brews. Chocolate comes up long before the subtle hint of caramel. I noted that this is very different from most vertical tastings I have done because the aging usually mellows a beer. Definitely not the case here.

Unfortunately, the rest of my tasting notes are illegible due to 66 ounces of powerful darkness.


Ewephoria, a seasonal stout by 3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan, Wis., caught my attention in its spot in the wall of beer with the mention of cocoa nibs and, especially, ginger. Ginger is a great ingredient, but you don’t see it used much in commercial beers. Homebrewers, however, have put it to great use.

3 Sheeps Ewephoria is a creamy, lick-your-lips-after-each-sip stout. The chocolate (and coffee) is there in the flavor, but the ginger eluded me, or is that it with just a hint of sharpness on the upper ranges of the palate? Maybe.

This is a very nice, drinkable and unsheepish stout.

Registration is now open for the Door County Homebrewing Championship, which runs in conjunction with the Door County Beer Festival on June 14 in beautiful downtown Baileys Harbor. For details on entering your beer, visit