According to Punxsutawney Phil, we still have a few weeks of winter left to get through, which means more dark beer to sip! Brooklyn Brewery’s tradition of Black Ops continued on in 2017, and one can only imagine it will do so again in 2018, given this dark beer has been a mainstay beer for a decade now.
The fun of the beer is when and where you might find it. Will it be on draft? In 750ml bottles? The marketing behind the beer is fun and mildly mysterious, with the brewery’s insistence, on its website, that the beer simply does not exist. “However, if it did exist, it would be a strong stout concocted by the Brooklyn brewing team under cover of secrecy and hidden from everyone else at the brewery.” That’s the story and they’re sticking to it.
So, this imperial stout may or may not have been aged in bourbon barrels for six months. Maybe more, maybe less. Bottled flat? Perhaps. Re-fermented with Champagne yeast? Seems far-fetched, but it’s possible.
Well, I got lucky: I stumbled into my neighborhood tavern recently in the midst of a blustery cold, and they’d just tapped a sixth-barrel of Black Ops. It was expensive for a 10-ounce pour. I didn’t care.
They set it up for me, in a pilsner glass, no less (hey, it’s a neighborhood tavern, they’re working with what they have available), and all the legends I’d read on the Brooklyn website seemed to be coming true.
“Presumably,” went the Black Ops description (or non-description), “such a beer would raise a rich, fluffy dark brown head and it would combine chocolate and coffee flavors with a rich underpinning of vanilla-like bourbon notes.”
What I experienced was pretty close. Perhaps the mystery is solved after all. OK, enough of the charade – I’d never had Black Ops before, because I guess not a lot of it makes it to Kentucky. But at least, finally, I know what I have been missing.
From the first sniff, I got more than just notes of bourbon-charged vanilla. In fact, the barrel permeated this beer from start to finish (I can taste it again as I type this), with a big body and boozy finish. At the same time, the roasted malts aren’t lost.
In addition, I sensed fruity notes (black currant?), and maybe even a touch of black licorice in this big beer. As I sipped it, chocolate came to the fore, and I sense a slightly dry finish that ended cleaner than expected. Despite the presence of 10.6 percent alcohol by volume in this year’s batch (or not), the finish was very smooth, in spite of all the alcohol.
It was an enjoyable moment for me, and quite a surprise. I’m glad I finally got to join the secret club.
Kevin Gibson is a Louisville, Ky.-based free-lance writer who writes about everything from food to music to beer to bourbon to professional football. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono (pissed her off a little, too). He is author of "Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft" (2014, History Press). He published his first novel, "The Liberation of Crystal Hill" (Bearhead Publishing), in 2011; he also published "Crohn's Disease: A Memoir from the Toilet" in January 2015 and his currently working on two more book projects. He co-hosts a weekly local radio show, and also plays in a couple of bands, the Uncommon Houseflies and the Nick Peay Band. Not surprisingly, he doesn't sleep much. But when he isn't running around town chasing stories or poised at his trusty laptop writing, you can often find him at one of the local breweries and being thankful for the life he lives. That, or he'll be sitting on his couch with his trusty sidekick Darby. Check out his beer blog, 502Brews.com, or his website, KevinGibsonWriter.com, to find out more about his books and why he does what he does. Or feel free to call him names on Twitter: @kgramone.