TERRAPIN THE DARK SIDE

Many of Terrapin’s more challenging offerings are presented in their Monster Tour beer series. The series includes the Big Hoppy Monster, Gamma Ray, and Wake ‘n’ Bake among others. But while those beers are innovative in their own right, Terrapin occasionally likes to push the envelope even further. That’s where the Side Project series comes in.

Each year, the master brewers in Athens choose a style (or often, a clash of styles) for their Side Project. When I first moved to the Southeast, their Maggie’s Farmhouse Ale was on tap at the J. Clyde’s (my favorite local suds depository) and I loved it. Since then, they’ve brewed a beer combining the best of Oktoberfest and Pumpkin ales (called, fittingly, the Pumpkinfest) and the upcoming offering is a Black India Pale Ale called Capt’n Krunkles. But right now, they’re on Project #9 which is a fascinating brew called The Dark Side.

The Dark Side is an attempt to marry a Belgian Style brew with an Imperial Stout. It’s as dark, rich and malty as most Imperial Stouts, but made with Trappist ale yeast strains to bring a sour, fruity complexity to the party. Minimal hops are added to allow the other flavors to shine through.

The Dark Side pours jet black, as you would expect from an Imperial Stout, and it has a compact tan head that disappears fast. Oily, but beautiful lacing clings to the glass throughout. The nose is what Doc van Drinkale would call “roasty toasty”. It’s sweet and malty, with strong hints of chocolate, coffee, and dried fruits (prunes and currants). There’s a good balance between the malt and fruit esters and very little hop bitterness (which was the brewer’s intention).

The taste is far more stout than Belgian. The malty sweetness, particularly the coffee/unsweetened chocolate flavors tend to dominate the front and middle of each sip with the 8.5% alcohol taking control of the warming, pleasant aftertaste. I wish there was more Belgian fruitiness and biscuity yeast flavor in the middle and finish. It’s definitely present, just not as pronounced as I’d like. I suspect getting a perfect 50/50 ratio of stout to Belgian is quite challenging (particularly for a first-year brew) and I’m pretty impressed with the brew regardless.*

*Or irregahdless as they say in my hometown of Boston.

Drinkability is very limited. The mouthfeel is heavy and a little too sweet…and that sweetness lingers longer than I’d like. The flavors are all wonderful, but as I said, they’re not quite “in tune”…that, plus the high ABV makes this a “one and done” brew. A good “one”, but I’m still not pining for more. 3 Hops for The Dark Side. I’d love to see the Terp master brewers tweak this one a little and if it comes back for a repeat performance, I’ll certainly jump on it in the future.

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7 comments

  1. Although this doesn’t sound like a well rounded beer, I love the fact that they’re experimenting in a more “Beerly” manner. Clearly that’s a word I just made up, but I think their efforts are more inline with actual brewing than some of the other experiments going on right now (You here me Dogfish Head?). As much as I can appreciate a brewer’s desire to throw a pot of coffee or 50 pounds of cranberries into a boil, I’d much rather see a combination of styles or some more fun tweaks like Terrapin is doing.

    Too mad Terrapin is mired in the South. I’d love to get in on some of their brews up in the land of the Northerners.

  2. It’s possible that I deify them more than necessary because they’re the best regional brewery. That said, I do think you would enjoy the majority of their offerings and I think you would absolutely worship a handful of them. I’ll try to ship some up to you soon to get your opinion on them…

    Agreed that brewers should experiment in this manner (combining styles, trying unorthodox malt and hop profiles, etc.) rather than focusing on weird adjuncts and spices. There’s certainly a place for the latter, but I think the former has far more potential.

  3. My untrained, unsophisticated palate would beg to differ. This is a 4 hop beer if I ever tasted one. Loved every last drop. Can’t say enough about it, other than: dear lord I wish we had access Terrapin brews here in the northeast.

  4. Did you have it bottled or on tap? I’ve only had it on draught and while I agree that it’s an excellent brew, it just doesn’t blow me away. I much prefer their Coffee Oatmeal and Big Hoppy Monster.

    Let’s be honest though…these Hop rankings are complete and utter bullshit. They’re totally subjective and have no real basis in reality. For the most part, we “try” to compare between styles. So if you’re drinking a Nut Brown, maybe you consider Newcastle your mediocre baseline and Sam Smith’s on the higher end and you compare based on your taste memories of those beers. That’s a nice idea, but when you’re looking at something like The Dark Side, what do you compare it to? There aren’t a lot of Belgian Imperial Stouts out there so you’re just doing the best you can to judge the brew in a vacuum.

    All of which is to say that if it’s a 4 Hops beer to you, then that’s what it is. I certainly won’t try to convince you otherwise and I’m just glad you got turned on to one of my favorite ale factories in the US. Unlike the obscure bands I listen to, I actually WANT my favorite breweries to explode onto the scene. More drinkers means more money means more access to stuff I like. A win-win for everyone

  5. I agree. It’s like arguing over who’s better: Kobe or Lebron. They’re both insane. And it mostly depends upon whether you’re a Kobe guy or a Lebron guy. So I guess I’m a Dark Side guy (wait…does that mean I’m a Kobe guy?).

    But having the argument is half the fun.

    Anyway, yeah, I wish I could buy Terrapin up here. Why is that? What the hell? Hey guys, I have money and I would want to spend it on that beer! I’m wondering if Brother Barley would be good enough to compose an entry on beer distribution. Why can I get Dale’s in two liquor stores in North Reading, MA (population 14,000) and I’ve never seen it in Somerville (population 80,000)?

  6. Actually, Doc is your guy since he used to be in the biz. The short answer is that you’re at the mercy of both your local distributors AND the whims of the breweries you’re interested in. As breweries ramp up production, they tend to go farther and farther afield. Terrapin is a fairly new brewery and have only recently moved into their own large brewing facility (before then, they mostly contract brewed). While it’s easiest to find in the Southeast, Slouch can actually purchase a number of their offerings in Pittsburgh now. I would be surprised if it didn’t become available up North in the next few years.

    Most microbrews keep their production volumes fairly small to ensure quality and to allow them to experiment more (also because large-scale brewing equipment becomes exponentially expensive). Small production volumes limit the saturation areas for each brewery so, for the most part, you can only really get “true” microbrew offerings close to the source. Something like Oskar Blues actually isn’t as small as you might think. While it’s technically a “brewpub”, it’s the largest-producing brewpub in the country which puts it on par with a number of regional craft brewers in terms of volume. That’s why you can get it in North Reading. Why not Somerville? That’s your distributors fault.

    If you prefer The Dark Side, then yeah, you’re a Kobe guy. Me? The day I root for a Laker is the day I start drinking wine instead of beer.

  7. […] endear yourself to us is to try something unique. That might mean combining two disparate styles (Terrapin is a master of this). Or reviving old, forgotten styles (look no further than Pretty Things). Or […]

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