Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
I was really trying to wait until after Thanksgiving to crack open a holiday beer – I’ve had a six-pack of Tröegs Independent Brewing’s Mad Elf on top of my fridge for weeks now – but when I saw this week’s beer sitting on the shelf, the last four-pack around, I grabbed it. I wrote a feature about it recently, intrigued by the potential flavor profile of Guinness Open Gate Brewery’s Imperial Gingerbread Spiced Stout and, since it’s 2020, I figured why not kick Christmas off a little early?
A little over two years ago, the Guinness Open Gate Brewery opened just outside of Baltimore – on the historic site of the Calvert Distillery – and was the first United States brewery in 64 years for the popular Irish beer brand. Sharing the spirit of exploration and discovery to its sister brewery back in Dublin, it cranks out Guinness’ classic Irish dry stout along with a slew of other beers, some are house-only and others get distributed. People outside of Ireland might not realize Guinness makes plenty of styles, and stout variants only available at its home base. The reason for the Baltimore area, beside crafting barrel-aged beers as a nod to the site’s distilling history, was Guinness wanted to be closer to the action, seeing the U.S. among the leaders in beer innovation. It allows Guinness to respond to trends quicker and make smaller batches, all while being within a 300-mile radius of some several large cities – with excellent transport links like sea, air and rail.
Imperial Gingerbread Spiced Stout marks the first time ever Guinness is releasing a holiday beer nationwide. Aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels, it’s an 11.0% ABV stout brewed with allspice, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, offering a “comforting warmth and holiday nostalgia” Guinness believes pairs best with roasted pork with fig, vanilla panna cotta or crème brûlée. It comes in elegant-looking packaging that has a holiday feel to it, with a simple gold and red label featuring the brewery’s logo prominently in the center and the name of the beer at the bottom. The ABV is listed and there’s a brief summary of what the effort is about, which makes this wannabe beer snob happy.
When I cracked open the 11.2-ounce bottle, I had to give it a strong sniff to see how much of the bourbon and gingerbread flavor was present. Actually, the nose wasn’t super potent and while I got hints of both of those flavors, particularly the booziness, I also got clove and some chocolate from the malt. It didn’t smell great but it wasn’t terrible either – it was just kind of blah and didn’t woo me. And when it came time to pour, I found that to be even more humdrum than what my nose experienced.
It poured a dark brown color with a vibrant ruby hue when any light shined on it. I’m not sure if this was completely on purpose, as to accentuate the fact that it’s a gingerbread themed, but I typically expect my imperial stouts to be almost jet-black in color. In fact, I actually sent a photo to a couple of friends and they almost immediately dismissed it because of its ruby-red appearance. It didn’t illicit a ton of head either, at least the first beer, but a more vigorous pour on the second one yielded better results, with two fingers of a beige, quickly receding, head. For how much I liked the classic label, it took effort to get the desired beer look.
So, for how much I underappreciated the first two characteristics, I thought the taste was wonderful. It might be a sipper but it has this weird drinkability about it that made me want to keep going – and immediately open a second one after I was finished. I wouldn’t recommend more than two in a sitting, however. The flavor profile, complemented by a full-bodied and smooth mouthfeel, started off with some clove and a boozy taste from the bourbon and was followed by a balance of spices like nutmeg and cinnamon which then gives way to hints of oak and vanilla on the back-end. It finishes dry and warms the stomach.
I was pleasantly surprised with the taste and it definitely had a holiday vibe to it, as a late night sipper while hanging out with friends or after the family leaves and you’re sitting around the tree. And, in the end, the taste is what’s most important!
Imperial Gingerbread Spiced Stout cost me just under $23 for the four-pack and while I thought that might be a smidge high for what you get, it was worth shelling out a little more to try it. Once I figured out my score, I was eager to hop onto BeerAdvocate to see what the rest of the country thought about this beer.
The site itself gave it a very good 86 rating, while the average was 3.97 based on 13 ratings. I puzzled over this one for a little while but I thought the taste was something quite enjoyable, and oddly drinkable, specifically for this time of year. In the end, I settled on an 8.0 out of 10. Look, it certainly has flaws, ones that would doom other beers I’ve reviewed, but you can’t completely downplay a beer that’s delicious. It’s fairly complex but I’m not sure it’s expertly crafted, from all of the elements featured.
Stay tuned next week, because I might try something from your favorite brewery.