Beer: Master of Disguise Brewery: Stone Brewing Co. Style: Golden Stout, I Guess? ABV: 9.7 percent
Remember green ketchup? Heinz, those crazy bastards, launched an emerald-hued version of the condiment -- made, I'm assuming, with ground-up leprechauns and seaweed -- in 2000. It was incomprehensibly popular for about five years, until people realized they were eating green ketchup, and stopped the madness.
I couldn't stop thinking about green ketchup as I sipped Master of Disguise, the newest ale from Stone Brewing Co. It has all the aspects of your standard imperial stout: It's crazy-thick, sliding into the glass with motor-oil consistency. It smells like cocoa nibs, light roast coffee, baked wheat bread, green bananas and wet tree leaves. The flavor is permeated with coffee beans and chocolate, accented by subtler fruity yeast notes of red apple and pear. It the mouth, the brew's viscous and lightly carbonated, and it finishes with a blast of sweet cocoa and a lingering alcohol bite. It's a tasty example of an imperial stout.
Only problem is, it's orange.
There's a new trend in beer: the golden stout. It's weird because stout is a classic style with pretty rigidly defined characteristics, the most important being that it's brewed with a large amount of roasted malt. This dark barley gives a stout the flavors of toast, coffee and chocolate as well as the deep brown or black color it's known for. Many brewers, however, are bending the rules of beer styles and recreating the flavors of stout in lightly-colored ales using additions of coffee, chocolate and milk sugar.
Stone's version of the discord-causing brew was first hinted at after the premiere of the brewery's 11th Anniversary Ale, a black IPA that was eventually rebrewed and recast as Sublimely Self-Righteous, in 2007. Referencing the dark-colored pale ale's disdain for the rules of beer styles, some wiseass joked that the brewery should make a golden stout next. On April Fool's Day 2010, Stone CEO Greg Koch and BrewDog co-founder James Watt teased fans with a fictional, oxymoronic collaboration beer that was pale in color but had all the classic flavors of an imperial stout, calling it BrewDog/Stone Luciferin Golden Imperial Stout. The joke finally turned serious this year, when Brewmaster Mitch Steele decided to make the golden stout a reality by developing a beer brewed with flaked oats for a thick body; sheets of cocoa and locally roasted coffee for stout-like flavors; and English amber and pale malts for a golden hue.
"To achieve the qualities of a stout, we relied on our prior experience brewing with coffee to pull flavors from the beans without affecting the hue of the beer," Steele said in a press release.
Though the first to send such an ale into wide distribution, Stone can hardly claim to have created the style. Cascade Brewing Oblique Black and White Stout, brewed with Ethiopian coffee and pale malts, premiered in late 2012. Soon after, Noble Ale Works in Anaheim, Calif. began producing a blonde vanilla/coffee/milk stout. They called it Naughty Sauce.
Locally, a version of golden stout is made by Flagstaff's Mother Road Brewing Co. Dubbed the Ground Control Coffee Ale, since the batch was dosed with three pounds per barrel of Guatemalan coffee toasted by Ground Control the day before the brew, this 6.8 percent ABV brew is, like Master of Disguise, burnt orange in hue and brilliantly clear. Close your eyes and take a whiff -- it's a stout to the nose, and a rather coffee-forward stout, in fact, with pronounced nutty, oily beans enveloping a sweetish apple-and-honey malt character. Notes of sweet cream also emerge amid the java, which isn't surprising -- lactose, or milk sugar, was added to the beer as well. The flavor gives away more clues about this golden ale's actual nature, as more honeyed malt, fruity esters and even some floral hop notes are noticeable. But here, too, coffee is in charge, bringing caffeinated dark roast to mind before a sugar-cookie finish. The body is spot-on stout as well -- a viscous, syrupy medium with peppery carbonation.
Are these brews odd and gimmicky, in a green ketchup kind of way? Sure they are. But there was nothing wrong with green ketchup, other than its challenge of perceptions and agreed-upon social norms. Golden stouts, similarly, deliver all the coffee and chocolate flavor you may enjoy in a stout, but without the attendant bite and acidity of roasted malt. In a way, they do stout better than actual stout does stout. There's room in the world of for beers -- and ketchups -- of all colors.
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Except purple ketchup. That shit is disgusting.