Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Co.
Style: American stout
ABV: 9 percent
It's well-known that most brewers are major fans of rock and roll. Walk into a brewhouse when brewers are hard at work crafting beer and you're likely to some heavily distorted, high energy stuff coming through the speakers. Much like rock stars themselves (usually just in their own heads, but hey), they sample from multiple influences to create a product that drives the crowd wild.
Apparently the affinity goes both ways; rockers are just as big fans of beer as brewers are of rock. A New Belgium brewer discovered this when he met Neil Fallon, lead singer of Clutch, in line at a Fort Collins Pickle Barrel. Realizing the band members were geeks for beer, he gave them a tour of the brewery and established a partnership that would lead to one of the beer world's few brewery-band collaborations.
You may not have heard of Clutch, but you've probably heard the Maryland band's punchy, bluesy rock every so often in TV commercials, video games and NFL highlights. Their music is jagged-edged and high energy, like a steel guitar with bullet holes, and when they were given free rein by New Belgium to construct the brew, they came up with something reflecting their style.
Clutch (the beer) is a two-part brew, composed of 80 percent roasty stout blended with 20 percent oak-aged sour ale. It's part of the Lips of Faith series, a group of tiny-batch brews New Belgium creates to celebrate milestones or to simply experiment with new flavors.
Poured into a tulip, Clutch oozes black -- it's a level of darkness any heavy metal band would be proud of. The head slowly rises in large caramel-colored bubbles, reaching an impressive height before popping away at a quick pace.
The beer is pure roasty goodness in the nose. Black and chocolate malts deliver aromas of roasted peanuts, coffee crumbles, rich dark bread, cocoa, oats and oaky vanilla. There's a fruity tang in back that compares to dark cherries, but it's not as substantial as you would expect.
The sourness is amped up in the flavor, however, dropping whole dark cherries and blueberries into the mix. As you move the smooth, spongy body across the tongue, new oak adds woody depth in front of the cocoa and curacao-spiced dark chocolate.
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Despite the dissonance you might expect in a blend of burnt malts and souring bacteria, it's not a raucous, angry mosh pit of competing flavors. The dark fruit flavors lent by the sour ale aren't too far outside the realm of what's acceptable in a black beer, making this seem almost like a very sweet and fruity Russian imperial stout. The harmonious blend makes you wonder if it wouldn't be a bad idea for more brewers and bands to make sweet music together.
Food pairing suggestions:
Clutch is a high-volume beer with dessert-like flavors that will blend well with similarly loud dishes. Try it alongside charred figs drizzled with dark chocolate to accent the beer's toasted malt, or with creamy, rich cheesecake topped with dark berries to showcase a blend of tart notes.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized expert on beer.