The name of the game is Beersport – two beers enter, one beer leaves. Beersport.
This edition of Beersport features two beers that reference popular culture. The first beer, Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew, references an album that was released nearly 45 years ago – Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Some might call the reference, and the album, timeless. Others may find both the reference and the album obscure and outdated.
I won't bore you with what camp I am in, but I will tell you that right now all I want to do is listen to Gram Parsons. How is that for obscure? And outdated? That is not just a reference, either, that is straight up, feel it in your bones, truth.
If I were an MTV special, I would be True Life: All I Want To Do Is Listen To Gram Parsons. I would have a life coach and he/she would try and get me to listen to other things and the first few days would be great – like absolutely fantastic – I'm trying new things like the Avett Brothers and Deer Tick, I'm not wearing my denim vest, I've even stopped harmonizing with other people while they are trying to talk to me. But then around day four, I would break down, sobbing how “I can't do it!” and “it's too hard!” The camera would cut to a full moon as I scream “Emmylou!” into my pillow.
The second beer, Ommegang's Game of Thrones Take The Black Stout, references a television series (based on a book series) that is much more current – not in the sense that it takes place in present times – but in the sense that the series is currently on television. However, while the reference itself may be current, the beer itself is not, as I do not believe it is still available for purchase. Some bottle shop somewhere may have it on their shelves but I have not seen it for maybe a month, but probably more like several months. There is a new Game of Thrones beer, Fire and Blood, a red ale brewed with rye and ancho chilies that after this sentence I will not be mentioning as it does not fit my requirement of containing some element of outdated-ness.
What follows is a brief synopsis of my preconceived notions of the two beers, why I chose to have them face off in a Beersport battle, and the tasting notes I jotted down as I drank them side by side.
I bought these beers at the same time, some time at the beginning of winter, for the exact purpose of comparing them in this very comparison. And while I meant to drink them in more timely fashion in an effort to help inform craft beer consumers across the globe, the bottles simply kept getting overlooked for more desirable choices. Also, I've had Bitches Brew before – it left me more confused than content, and I was left wanting more. Compound that with several reviews of Take The Black that presented it as unremarkable, and frankly I was no hurry to reach past better choices while in the beer cellar weighing my options.
But then Gram Parson's version of “Love Hurts” got stuck on repeat and I learned some things. I learned that sometimes, maybe all the time, love hurts. Love scars. Love wounds. And Mars (Wait, what?!!). I also learned the following:
Some fools think of happiness
Some fools fool themselves I guess
They're not foolin' me
I know it isn't true
I know it isn't true
Love is just a lie
Made to make you blue
I'm not even depressed. And I'm a huge fan of love. I love love. But the harmonies OH THE HARMONIES are just that good.
If we had more time I would type out the lyrics to "$1000 Wedding". I would type them and you would read them and when we get to that part – you know the part – we would hold hairbrushes and look into each others eyes and sing our hearts out until our rib cages vibrated like goddamned tuning forks in the hands of angels:
I hate to tell you how he acted
when the news arrived
he took some friends out drinking
and it's lucky they survived
And we would just know who had the high parts. We would just know. And then our bodies would lose their form and we would have tantric sex.
For a year.
Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew (2.43 BAR) vs. Ommegang's Game of Thrones Take The Black Stout (1.17 BAR)
The Bitches Brew was a thick black pour with about a half inch of dense, dark khaki colored head.
Take The Black was a similar black, perhaps not as thick and with a lighter tan head that was a bit more fluffy or foamy and dissipated faster.
Advantage Bitches Brew.
Take The Black smelled of Belgian yeast, caramel, a bit of licorice, and a hint of roasted malt. Perhaps a sweet smell of molasses. This was the sweeter smelling of the two but neither had strong aromas. Mostly, this smelled like beer.
Bitches Brew, while not a strong aroma, had an interesting roasted malt, cocoa, honey, and almost a floral/herbal burnt wood smell. Got all that?
Bitches Brew wins again.
Bitches Brew has thick sweetness, more than the nose prepared me for, with a slight milky taste. The char from the aroma comes out in the finish. The beer almost has two parts that happen simultaneously – a watery light sweetness and a heavier, rich burnt cocoa – the second part being quite enjoyable and unique.
The taste of Take The Black follows the aroma pretty closely. One way to say it would be to say that there is not much to it. Another would be to say that the flavors are subtle but well balanced. There are hints of Belgian yeast, roasted malt, and caramel. The licorice blends well with the roasted flavors but the sweet aspect of this beer does have a metallic zing to it, like licking an orange peel. Is that star anise?
Another one for Bitches Brew.
Bitches Brew was the thicker of two but has a lighter feel for the style (listed as an American Imperial/Double Stout on our Leaderboards). The charred flavors in the finish create a memory that is thicker than the actual mouthfeel. There is a transitional point in this flavors of this beer where it has an almost effervescent feel for a moment.
Take The Black is extremely easy to drink – the body matches the subtleness of the flavors well. Generally I prefer a lighter stout to have a drier feel, but this had just enough dryness to balance the sweet slickness.
The Bitches Brew was interesting but more of a sipper, even though the feel was not all that thick – almost an element of deception. The drink-ability of Take The Black matched the lighter, more subtle flavors. I'll award the point to Take The Black.
Bitches Brew was more interesting than enjoyable/drinkable overall while the Take The Black, while not that interesting was drinkable and straightforward. If Ommegang was trying to represent a beer from the Game Of Thrones universe that they imagined the men of the Night's Watch drinking, then perhaps this hits that mark. Both beers were enjoyable to an extent but I am not rushing out for another bottle of either one. On that same note, I'm not upset about not being able to get another bottle of Take The Black. If both were still available, and I had to choose one, it would be the Bitches Brew.
The beer that is actually still available lives on to fight another day. Everybody wins!
Follow J. R. Shirt on Twitter and Untapped @beernomyshirt.