I've been concentrating on beers from the Pacific Northwest because
many are available here (Montana, home of lunatics and _ad hoc_ speed
limits) and many of those are new to me. I was able to find Haystack
Black on tap in a local bar a few weeks ago along with a dozen other
small regional brews, and turned up a 22-ounce "bomber" bottle without
difficulty the other day.
This is a dark beer with a thick initial head and the stickiness of
dextrins, unfermentable bits of starches half-digested in malting and
mashing. The label calls it "dark and rich with a substantial malt
body...truly a landmark beer." Hyperbole, but that's common enough
on beer bottles: perhaps the people who write the texts for their
labels have just drunk too much of the potential contents. (That
would explain the encomium incorporated in the Budweiser logo, and
the brazen lies on Sam Adams products.) To me this is simply a good
rich stout, not in the Guinness mode but not sharply different from
a host of other good stouts brewed in the West. It reminds me more
of what I'd get in a brewpub that what I usually get in a small-
brewery bottle: various minor flaws, or endearing quirks.
The burnt-malt flavor of stout is there, particularly in the aftertaste.
The body, stickiness, mouth-feel (if you will) of those unfermentables
are perhaps a bit much. They're almost balanced by the hop flavor and
bitterness, but not quite, though the burnt flavor takes up most of the
slack. There's almost no hop aroma, but enough for the style. This
whole package does offset the taste of alcohol, giving the sort of balance
one gets in an Imperial Stout: sweetness against alcoholic bite. It's
as if Portland Brewing set out to compete with Grant's excellent Imperial
Stout but lost nerve and watered the wort. Once I home-brewed a stout
(dubbed "Stout Cortez") with rather too much wildflower honey as an
adjunct. My effort had so much alcoholic bite that I could barely drink
it; here the alcohol has only a slight edge -- if I'm not just imagining
that after a bottle of beer with dinner and most of a bomber of this
Haystack Black -- and it's not offensive.
Imagine buying a loaf of bread at a grocery and getting something that
resembled imperfect but tasty home-baked bread: that sums up this beer.
Well worth a try: not exceptional but not exceptionable either.