Aleheads are a jaded lot. We’ve sampled beers so high in IBUs that raw horseradish tastes like celery to us. We’ve thrown back beers with such monstrous ABV percentages that they’re essentially whiskey with a dash of hops. We’ve chugged beers so dark that light is actually sucked back into them like a black hole. But there are a few things that fill our cold, black hearts with a tiny ray of sunshine. A baby’s smile. A puppy’s wagging tail. Cleavage.
One of these small joys, which even the most hardened* Alehead will admit to, is discovering a new, unknown craft brewer on your package store shelves.
*I mean hardened like “tough” not like the result of staring at too much cleavage.
That wondrous moment hit me last week when I was pulling a few tried and true brews off the shelves of my local beer depository. In the midst of sifting through various sixers of Left Hand and Sweetwater, I noticed some cans I had never seen before. Tall boys of “Pine Belt Ale”…sixers of “Bombshell Blonde”…and four-packs of something called “Buried Hatchet Stout”. I was intrigued, so I grabbed the Stout (I’m a predictable man) and wandered back to the McHops Monastery for a tasting note. Wifey McHops, as always, joined me.
The Buried Hatchet Stout is brewed by an outfit in Conroe, TX (north of Houston…I didn’t know where it was either) called Southern Star. The brewery is in its infancy right now…just two years old and it only produces three year-round brews (the ones mentioned above). They’ve also developed a concept called the “Pro-AM Line” where homebrewers can submit recipes to Southern Star every April and the brewery will scale the beer up in their commercial tanks for a Summer release. This is basically the coolest concept ever and I would like to formally charge all craft breweries to do the same thing. Do you hear me craft brewers that clearly don’t read this blog! Pro-AM! Now!
The Buried Hatchet can has some vague language about the beer being “brewed with a large quantity of brown malt reminiscent of a traditional pre-Industrial Revolution malt profile. This stout is full of robust, roasted flavors which intermingle with a bittersweet creaminess that concludes to a perfect, warming finish.”
Whatever. We’ll be the judge of that. I should point out that while Southern Star calls this an American Strong Stout, BeerAdvocate has it listed as a Foreign/Export Stout. That “Foreign/Export” terminology arose from historical usage…much like the terms India Pale Ale and Russian Imperial Stout. It obviously doesn’t imply that modern beers of this style are either “Foreign” or brewed for “Export” (neither phrase is applicable to the Buried Hatchet). Export Stouts were originally brewed for…wait for it…exporting. Since they had to survive long journeys, the ABV content was upped and the malt profile was heavily roasted to temper the alcohol burn. Guinness makes the most famous Export Stouts though Lion Stout from Ceylon is highly regarded as well.
Southern Star, like perennial Alehead favorite Oskar Blues, cans all of their beers. The brew was poured into a shaker glass with a two-finger, loose, tan head. Wifey McHops quickly noted that the seemingly black stout was actually a very dark amber at the tapered end of the pint and “faded” to black at the top. Surprising for the style to say the least. Also surprising was that the head faded very quickly and the lacing was minimal at best. It just looks “light” for a stout.
Coffee was the prime note in the nose. Once the burst of java fades, caramel, chocolate, and toffee swell up. It’s very sweet smelling and has just a touch of ABV nose-burn. No hop profile at all.
The taste starts sweet like thin caramel and then fades to a roasted malt/baking chocolate middle. The finish is slightly bitter with a chalky, burnt-coffee flavor. The mouthfeel is creamy at first blush but quickly breaks down and becomes a touch thin and syrupy. Not much carbonation and the sweetness lingers in the mouth longer than you would expect from an 8.5% ABV beer. Personally, I don’t like to be kicked in the teeth by the booze, but there’s a difference between cleverly incorporating the alcohol and hiding it altogether.
For the style, the Buried Hatchet has medium drinkability. I could see polishing off the four-pack in a session, but I wouldn’t be clamoring for more and I probably won’t rush back to the store to buy another rack immediately. Still, it’s always a treat finding a new brewery and while the Buried Hatchet still needs some fine-tuning, I think Southern Star has some great brews in their future. 2.5 Hops.