Brouwer’s Cafe Back in Black Stout Fest is a perennial Seattle Beer Week favorite.  Advertised as a deep, dark respite from a sunny Seattle spring, for me, it was different. A celebration and coming out of a long hibernation of seclusion and temperance, into a boisterous enclave of beer industry friends, beer, Underberg, rock music and fun!

I needed to make a gradual return to the consumption of alcohol, after my long hiatus so I stuck to the Washington stouts, of which I indulged in only three:

  • Fremont Brewing Rusty Nail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
  • Holy Mountain Brewing Midnight Still Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
  • Reuben’s Brews Imperial Molé Stout
Mya, Matt & Ian recovering from SBW Kick Off at Back in Black Stout Fest

Mya, Matt & Ian recovering from SBW Kick Off at Stout Fest

Normally, I am able to sample the stouts of my table mates to compare the Washington stouts vs the likes of Dogfish head, Abyss, etc.  I was the only one at my table, however, that wasn’t still recovering from the Seattle Beer Week Kick Off Parties the night before and they had all switched from the high octane stouts to lower ABV IPAs, lagers or ciders, by the time I arrived.

Holy Mountain Brewery Midnight Still Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

Holy Mountain’s entry was my favorite of the three Washington stouts that I tried. Almost as dark as midnight and with a thicker mouth feel, reminiscent of the sorghum molasses that I bet found its way into this Imperial Stout. Don’t let scare you off.  It is as malty as an Imperial Stout needs to be but doesn’t come across as sweet.  Midnight Still is almost chewy deliciousness. Here is where I found the licorice flavors I was looking for earlier, and so common in Imperial Stouts. I also picked up some vanilla, toasted nuts, toffee and caramel in this dark and very dangerous stout at 12.5% ABV.

Fremont Rusted Nail Back in Black Stout Fest 2018

Fremont Rusted Nail Back in Black Stout Fest 2018

Fremont Brewing Rusty Nail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout with Licorice & Cinnamon

If I had tasted this stout blind, I think I would have recognized this as a Fremont brew. Fremont Brewery brews with a signature clarity, intensity and balance in all of its brews and that signature is further defined in their barrel program.  There the pendulum shifts to the wood but in a way, that their fans adore.  Malt is the star, as you would expect in an Imperial Stout, but boasts a well balanced hop profile. Licorice and cinnamon maybe listed on the marquee but in truth, they are bit players.  This isn’t Cinnamon Roll cinnamon, more like cinnamon in a haystack cinnamon.  Jonathan would taste it but I am not sure everyone would unless they read the description first.  The licorice is subtle as well.  Licorice lovers are going to wonder where the licorice is and licorice haters are going to unnecessarily avoid this Washington stout.  Lots of Imperial Stouts made with sorghum have much more licorice flavor than this beer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very tasty stout, it just has a lot more vanilla, caramel, nut and boozy notes from the bourbon barrel than it does cinnamon and licorice flavors. The alcohol content is a whopping 12.7%.

Reuben’s Brews Imperial Mole Stout

Unfortunately, I tasted Reuben’s last, after the other two Imperial Stouts and after I had succumbed to peer pressure for Underberg. I think I missed the nuances of Reuben’s Brews Imperial Molé Stout.  This was by far the driest of the three Washington Imperial Stouts that I tried. Roasted and bitter notes of malt were predominate here.  Chocolate was extremely subtle and very dark. I didn’t get any pepper notes that I would expect from a Molé style beer, but I am thinking that have more to do with my tasting order, than the beer itself. I would like to try this beer again under different circumstances. This much more subtle stout, also has a more modest alcohol content of 9.8%.

Back in Black Stout Fest continues at Brouwer’s Cafe through Sunday, but expect choices to grow more limited as kegs blow. There are still probably some delicious stouts on tap through Sunday though.