Berghoff Brewery explains that aged stock ales are an American tradition, and one that had gone by the wayside. But stock ales go back much farther than American brewing, evolving from what was once known as a “stale” porter. These big beers were high in malts and gravity. They put hair on your chest. Originally intended to mix with mild, or “running,” beers, they evolved into their own style.
Berghoff’s new Oak Aged Stock Ale admittedly takes some liberties with the concept. But they worked.
“We used recipe details from a number of period sources,” the Stock Ale sell sheet says, “putting together a slightly modernized version, following tradition as much as possible.”
Owner Ben Minkoff consulted with brewing experts Randy Mosher and John Hannafan on classic lager recipes. Ultimately, the brewing team used a classic combination of lager, caramel and black malts, assisted by some Belgian brewer’s brown sugar for improved drinkability. And then they hopped it with American hops. Plenty of American Cluster hops. And then they added East Kent Goldings and Hallertau Hersbrucker hops to add an old-school aroma.
Ale yeast took care of the fermentation process in the presence of toasted oak, which lends a vanilla aroma.
It looks like an especially thick red ale, pouring fairly clean. I found the nose to be subtle – deceptively so, given its massive 10 percent ABV and flavor profile. The oak’s vanilla accent is faint, but the caramel malts tease.
Once you’ve taken a drink, the malts take over your palate, and for a moment you’re almost fooled into thinking you’re drinking a barrel-aged stout. Then the hops kick in for a long, complex and ultimately satisfying bitter finish (this baby packs 80 IBU). In fact, the strength of it almost provides a bourbon-like finish.
Still, the oak flavor takes a back seat to the rich malts and the complex hops, so it isn’t over-barrelled. The finish, after a few drinks, becomes interestingly tannic, and it lingers long after your last drink. It’s a unique experience. Intriguing, to say the least.
But it’s decidedly beer, despite the oak presence and the odd, tannic finish. It’s a big and bold beer, and one that can’t be taken lightly; sit back and savor its richness and prepare for the powerful wallop it packs. Oak Aged Stock Ale is the first in a series of “uberbiers” in Berghoff’s attempt to reimagine itself. It’s off to a darn good start.
Founded in 1887, Berghoff was for most of its life a German brewery, brewing 12,000 barrels of lager in its first year and expanding production to as much as 90,000. After surviving Prohibition, it was the first brewery to return to production, later changing its slogan from “A real German brew” to “A real honest brew.” The brand changed hands a couple of times beginning in the early 1950s, and now produces a variety of beers from Reppin’ Red Ale to Sir Dunkle to Straight-Up Hefe Weisen.
Stock Ale will be available on draft and in four packs at craft beer bars and shops in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. The next beer in the Berghoff limited release line will be introduced in June.