I love America and I have been fortunate to have travelled across vast swathes of the country as well as living in Texas for a couple of years. In the past decade my visits have been few and far between and I do not get to drink American beers as often as I'd like to nowadays. I do buy some occasionally when I get the chance and my last box from Beer Hawk supplied me with a couple so I thought it would be a good idea to match a couple of beers from the UK as comparison. I have cheated a bit as the only strong stout I had available from the UK in my box was one I have reviewed before and awarded top marks to so I've given the UK a bit of an advantage.
Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2% ABV) - Stone Brewing Co
Stone Brewing Co are a heavyweight US micro much loved in the UK so it is about time I tried this beer of theirs. They have been brewing for nearly twenty years now and they have a massive reputation this side of the Atlantic. This beer comes with a load of blurb on the label about how you probably won't like it and how you may need a sophisticated taste to enjoy it so warning you to stick to something more conventional and safer. All crap of course but quite amusing I guess. After pouring, the citrussy aroma instantly hit me and I knew I would probably adore this beer. It is quite dark with a bit of a deep ruby tinge to it. The level of carbonation is spot on and the first taste gave me a strong citrussy bitterness. A tropical fruit sweetness kicked in after a short time before the bitterness won the final battle in the long finish. My wife couldn't detect any oaked qualities in the taste but I did notice a little woody earthiness to it which tempered the strong tropical fruits a little and stopping them from running riot. The sweetness was therefore never able to dominate leaving a nice bitterness in the mouth. I do love this beer very much indeed and it would be interesting to try the non oaked version too as a comparison. Score 10/10.
Apparition IPA (5.9% ABV) - Celt Experience
To compete against the Arrogant Bastard Ale I came up with this 5.9% ABV IPA from Welsh micro Celt Experience. This special ale in their Shapeshifter Series was brewed in collaboration with top beer writer Melissa Cole. I came across Celt Experience for the first time last year when I had a pint of their sumptuous dark ale Dark Age (4.0% ABV) in Bristol. Hopefully this chosen beer will be more than a match for those 'arrogant bastards' across the water.
Well I must say that it did come pretty damn close to receiving top marks. It is much paler than the opposition above and obviously the strength is not as high. The aroma is quite light and fruity and the initial taste has a bit of grassiness to it with some lemon notes too and there was initially quite an intense bitter finish. The more I drank the more the richer tropical fruit flavours bounded in but they never took over. It was like walking in a fog of grassy citrussy bitterness with patches of peach and mango hitting you at various intervals. As soon as you think the bitterness had gone it would leap back at you again. It is a lovely beer and judged on its own I may have given it top marks but I have to make a choice and my slight preference goes to the US.
Black Chocolate Stout (10.0% ABV) - Brooklyn Brewery
Now we move on to the heavyweight section and the east coast. Brooklyn Brewery is another long established US micro having began brewing operations in 1988. As with Stone Brewing, I have not really tried their beer before so it is time I corrected this.
This Black Chocolate Stout is an imperial stout brewed each winter and it is what it says it is. Black and chocolatey. It has quite a vinous quality to it initially but the chocolate notes are always there making it very smooth and rich. It does have a small taste of pure alcohol though and you know you are drinking a very strong beer here which is perhaps my only criticism of it. I would also have liked more roasted malt notes perhaps with some bitterness to it too but you can't have everything I guess. This therefore gets an 8/10 from me.
Temptation (10.0% ABV) - Durham Brewery
When it comes to bottled beers I have not tried anything better than those from the Durham Brewery. This really should be an easy point for the UK. This awesome stout is part of the case of Durham beers I received as a Christmas present along with the glass. This bottle comes in a proper size of 500ml which I much prefer. I won't go on about it here except to say I can usually detect no real price difference between 330ml and 500ml bottles when it comes to shopping for bottled beers so I do often get the feeling of being ripped off when I buy the smaller bottles.
When I opened this bottle of Temptation I was a little perturbed as the beer came gushing out and I had to act quickly to avoid a disaster. Once it was safely in the glass it looked sensational. Temptation was one of my twelve beer of xmas and it was awarded top marks then. This one was a little too carbonated but the taste was still sensational. There is an initial coffee bitterness to it before you get a rich sweet concoction of liquorice, coffee, chocolate and treacle. It is beautifully smooth and the only stout I have tried to match this beer is the St Petersburg from Thornbridge so although on this occasion I will only award it 9/10 due to the excess of carbonation it is still enough to beat the US contender.
I will declare this contest a tie and next time I purchase some American ales I will attempt to set up a rematch. If any of my American readers can recommend some beers I can include next time then feel free to make some suggestions (obviously they need to be ones I can buy over here). Once I have my line-up of two or three beers I will pick some UK ones to match them with. From this little lot above though I can highly recommend every single beer.