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Thirsty Thursday: Spring House Brewing Company’s Big Gruesome

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Photo by Ed Miller.

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.

When I went to the beer store this week, I was craving a heavy, chocolatey stout.  Anyone who knows my drinking habits even a little bit knows I’m not one to crave stouts, in fact I hardly ever drink this particular style, instead focusing my attention to hop-heavy beers like a moth to a flame.  But I figured stout season is practically here and since the stuff is already beginning to hit store shelves, I might as well take a break from being completely inundated with IPAs.  After some careful decision-making, I grabbed Spring House Brewing Company’s Big Gruesome – a brewery that’s slowly infiltrated my area, making a name for itself mostly through word of mouth.

Founded just outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2007 by Matt Keasey, Spring House began in a barn before moving into the city’s limits, where it grew – and grew quickly.  Keasey was sick of the direction his career was going and decided to pursue his passion for beer and brewing.  Today, the brewery has three locations – including an arcade – selling all of its beer, which has even won a handful of awards including a bronze medal for Kerplunk! Imperial Chocolate Stout in the chocolate beer category at the 2014 World Beer Cup – sounds perfect for my craving.

There are three beers in Spring House’s year-round repertoire, along with seven seasonal releases and another 12 limited releases throughout the 2020 calendar year, perhaps even a couple more in there.  Big Gruesome is a 7.9 percent chocolate peanut butter stout that features chocolate malt, raw cocoa nibs, vanilla beans and peanut butter for what Spring House calls “creamy, malty and full-bodied” and it’s aged on whole vanilla beans and raw cocoa nibs for an enhanced chocolate flavor.  Like the entire Spring House lineup of beer, Big Gruesome got a snazzy label facelift earlier this year.

The label features the company’s logo at the top, front and center, with the name big and bold, giving off kind of a ghoulish vibe, underneath it in purple and green font.  There’s also one mean dog-like creature with horns coming out of its mouth, looking similar to Cujo with a spiked collar.  Judging from the brewery’s social media, it often incorporates local artists on its labels. This particular one lists the ABV but, other than that, there’s no real information about what is inside.  A simple summary like the one on Spring House’s website would’ve certainly pleased my inner beer nerd.

I made sure to drink this beer before any others, so as not to compromise my palate.  It’s hard to switch to an opposite style and not have a lingering taste.  When I cracked it open, I didn’t mess around with the smell right away, instead I went right for the pour.  Big Gruesome poured pretty wonderfully, with a pitch black color and some brown fluffy head – two fingers worth which lasted for a minute before dissipating pretty quickly.  It came out heavy, with like a slight sludge to it, in a good way, so I knew immediately that it was a full-bodied effort.  I really thought it was Instragram-worthy though the majority of beers are sexier with all that head.

The nose brought about a strong chocolate presence but I also noted a little vanilla, peanut butter and just a hint of coffee, likely brought on by the malts.  It’s not the greatest beer I’ve ever smelled, in fact it’s not even close, but I didn’t mind it thanks to the powerful notes of chocolate.  I felt like the taste was similar to the nose but I found it a little more difficult to nail down the flavors.

From the very first sip, the chocolate was at the forefront, with the peanut butter and vanilla taste taking a little bit of a backseat.  I noticed a more hazelnut type of vibe with Big Gruesome and I wasn’t upset about it.  I might have liked it just a little bit sweet because I got a hint of the coffee flavor, along with a dryness, on the back-end – and I’m not a fan of coffee-styled stouts.  As I mentioned, it’s without a doubt a heavy-bodied beer and the carbonation was done well because there’s not too much of it, which would take away from the flavors of the beer.  Being somewhat of a stout novice, I can still tell this is a well-executed beer but it’s a sipper for me.

There’s a limited drinkability, maybe two at most, but that’s almost all stouts for me. 

Big Gruesome got some pretty high praise when I checked it out on BeerAdvocate, which is kind of surprising for a beer that’s available every month out of the year.  The site itself gave it an outstanding 92 while the average score is 4.11 out of 5.0, based on 798 ratings.  I wouldn’t go that high but I’m in the same ballpark, giving it a solid 8.0 out of 10.  There might be a thing or two I would change about this beer, like more sweetness in the flavor for example, but there’s no arguing it’s complex and well done.  I don’t often reach for stouts but I should be able to finish this four-pack – which was quite cheap at just over $14 – over the span of a few weeks, when the craving strikes.  I feel like this beer was made for a snow day, when there’s nowhere to go and plenty of beer to drink.

Stay tuned next week, because I might try something from your favorite brewery.