Brewdog: Dog A (Scotland: Imperial Stout: 15.1% ABV)

Visual: Black and leaving viscous trails. A rich coffee froth head comes easily and disappears just as quick. Thick while it lasts but soon becomes suds and islands.  A quick swirl brings it back to the fore though.

Nose: Heavy coffee beans in a roasted style. Hazelnuts. Ground pepper seeds and a touch of greenery. Bitter cocoa. Wood smoke. Barbecues and maybe even glazed steak at a moment. For some reason I think of hickory, but considering how rarely I encounter that aroma I would not like to call it.

Body: Heavy chocolate. Slow rise of a spicy tingle. Black forest gateaux. Honey. Heavily bitter and a very thick texture. Treacle. Black cherry. Bitter coffee and a roasted nut centre. Greenery. Light toffee and some liquorice hints.

Finish: Chocolate and cream. The chilli tingle hangs here. Slightly peppery at times. Chocolate orange touches when it feels sweeter maybe. Coffee. After a while becomes much more bitter chocolate. Slight hop character and sour cream twist at times.

Conclusion:  So we have what was effectively AB04, one of Brewdogs most highly rated beers, but with all its special elements ratcheted up.  The question is, does more make better? Let’s find out.

Oddly considering the added vanilla it seems to be the bitterness that has really ramped up here. Considering I have previous gone on record to state that I would like to see a few new high abv beers from Brewdog that don’t go the highly sweet route, this did come as a pleasant and well timed surprise.  While not highly hopped or insane on craft beer levels, compared to AB04 this is tongue etchingly bitter.

The coffee and chocolate are distinctly unsweetened and raw, with roasted touches to the middle. The finish is almost sour cream touched and holds a mild but noticeable chilli looming air.  Like the Stone Brewing Imperial Stout it does reveal more over time and with larger samplings.  Here it adds toffee sweetness, but also more of a chilli presence, for a sweeter but warming experience. Even here the cocoa dustings as it exits remain stoically bitter.  The flavour is heavy, sacrificing some of the subtlety of AB04 for a massive rise in raw punch and flavour.

Despite the added bitterness it does keep a firm richness of character and the texture froths up nicely.  It has a depth to the chocolate character that benefits from rolling around the mouth to examine, adding chocolate liquore like lacings to the beer and occasional black cherry touches.

Now after saying all that I’m torn a bit. It is very good. The only element against it is a liquorice like element that made me convinced they had used liquorice sticks in brewing (to the best of my knowledge they haven’t). This bit doesn’t always sit well with the rest of the beer. That however is a minor touch, and is balanced against many improvements, such as the chilli which is used much better here than in AB04. More noticeable but far from intrusive. Balanced against all these complements about its depth of chocolate flavour, its careful coffee touches in the bitterness, the amazingly restrained alcohol for the abv, against all this I must say. It is bloody expensive.

It has a premium price tag, Not Dark Lord or 40 year Bowmore Paradox silly level, but still heavy. Id say, despite my reservations, that it may just be worth it. It doesn’t beat out my all time top Imperial Stouts, but it is distinct enough to be worth it on its own merits and is a close contender.

What really makes it is while it doesn’t have the same range of flavour, it is much more texturally nuanced than those beers, it gives extra depths to the flavours it does has that draw you in.

A multi textured treat, viscous stout texture one moment, liquore like another, roasted at the next, all giving new takes on what you have drunk before. It takes time to show its full glory but is worth it when it does.

Expensive, but expressive.

Background: This one has been the source of some controversy.  This beer was brewed to celebrate their fifth anniversary, and was initially indicated to be a rebrew of AB04 – possibly their most sought after beer. This caused a kafuffle as Abstrakts were initially pitched as one off brews and some people viewed this as a broken promise. Personally I wasn’t too bothered, part of the joy of beer is sharing. However when it was released there was another group of dissenting rumblings, as the cost was significantly higher than AB04.  Brewdog clarified that while this used the same base beer as AB04 it had vanilla added, three times as much chilli and used different coffee. The primary cost booster however seemed to be that it spent significantly longer in the tank ageing – 5 months in fact.  Thus after much commotion the beer arrived to me, ready to be examined and enjoyed and to see if it is worth the hefty price tag. I was quite looking forwards to this. AB04 has gone up in my opinion since the original review, with a year aged version and keg version sampled since, both of which added greatly to the flavour and experience. Oh yeah, before I get, the usual disclaimer, I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers – though some times I feel I may be overly critical on their brews to compensate for this. Please use your own judgement when reading.