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Hart Brewing, Seattle and Kalama, WA

by Markian Gooley

Every homebrewer brews a coffee-flavored beer sooner or later, usually a stout or porter racked (siphoned) off the dead yeast of fermentation, mixed with freshly-ground beans, and racked off the grounds after a week or so. I did a delicious stout a few years ago with a pound and a half of pulverized Sumatra in the five-gallon batch. Friends who tried it had no complaints apart from insomnia. One would expect a similar brew from in Seattle.

Pyramid Espresso Stout contains no coffee at all. It has "hints of espresso from rare `black malt,'" which sounds to me like the same black patent malt one can buy at any homebrew-supply shop, and "complex flavors of coffee and chocolate," according to its labels. "Espresso yourself!" the neck label adds, and gives a URL (I haven't looked at it yet). Alcohol content is on the main label: 4.5% by weight (traditional measure in the U. S.) and 5.6% by volume (usual in the rest of the world: Canadian beer is not as strong as some fraternity boys think it is).

This stout has an excellent initial head, light brown as befits a beer that's almost opaque black. It smells of dark-roasted and burnt malts, with a touch of alcohol and maybe a hint of hops: there's no hint of coffee or chocolate or even roasted carob. Neither is there any actual coffee flavor, just a clean bitterness followed by alcohol burn mixed with malt sweetness (think of porter), which fade into tastes of dark malt and lingering burnt barley (scorched Scotch broth, but pleasant). Maybe the initial bitterness is from bittering hops, but none of the other flavors here seem to be, though the dark-malt and burnt flavors could mask a lot.

There's a little stickiness to Espresso Stout, enough to be pleasant. As it warms to room temperature (the label suggests serving it just a bit cooler) its balance improves: the malty sweetness threatens to cloy, but the alcohol taste gets stronger and balances it. It seems as if the burnt malt and the alcohol are the only things keeping the lighter malts in check by then, but they manage to, even with (apparently) no hops at all.

Pyramid Espresso Stout may have a misleading name, and overblown claims on its label about complex flavors, but it's a pleasant and well-balanced drink that one can enjoy before bed without worrying about caffeine. Worth trying.

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