Today is episode #27 of the beer-blogging Friday sessions. This month’s topic is Beer Cocktails, titled more elegantly in the topic announcement as Beyond the Black and Tan.

When I was in college, it was Guinness that brought me to the world of flavorful beer. I drank mostly Miller Genuine Draft and Bud Dry because of their middle-of-the-road price points. They were cheaper than the brand standards like Budweiser and Coors Gold but seemed equally palatable. How naive I was (I even enjoyed Zima every now and then)!

A friend and roommate of mine had enjoyed Guinness on draft in the past and brought home a six-pack of their Extra Stout in bottles. I was intrigued by its color and subsequently blown away by its flavor. My roommate didn’t care for it. He preferred the “smoother” draft variety, which wasn’t available in bottles at the time (only on tap or in “widget” cans). I later tried the draft version and thoroughly enjoyed its coffee overtones and sublime drinkability. Around this time I also tried Pete’s brews – initially their Wicked Red – and was similarly impressed. Before too long I was a certified beer snob, unable to revert to flavorless yellow lager unless I was at a keg party where it was available for free (after all, I was still in college and usually broke).

I was even fortunate enough to live in Home Park – a neighborhood of shabby houses filled mostly with students and adjacent to campus (Georgia Tech in Atlanta). This turned out to be fortunate because this was back in Sweetwater’s early days, and they used to sort of (perhaps they still do…) “sponsor” the Home Park Festival by bringing a truckload of Sweetwater kegs of all flavors. Great live music + great local draft beer = tons of fun.

So, what does all this backstory have to do with beer cocktails? Sorry. I can be a bit long-winded sometimes. It wasn’t long after I discovered Guinness that I discovered this bizarre cocktail that was the black and tan. I read (and was probably told) that it is traditionally Bass and Guinness. I read that locals in Ireland preferred Harp and Guinness. I was fascinated (still a little naive, too, eh?).

I used to make my own “big daddy” black and tan using a 24 ounce stein/mug (emblazoned with Buzz the yellow jacket of course), a wickedly bent spoon (for the perfect pour), one 12 ounce bottle of Sierra Nevada Stout, and one 12 ounce bottle of Samuel Adams Bohemian Pilsner (no longer available). I have since outgrown this cocktail, but can still attest to the wonderful beer that it produced: stout with big roasted barley and coffee notes, a touch of grainy pilsner malt sweetness, and a mesmerizing hop complexity from the blend of citrusy American stout and brightly hopped Czech-style lager.

So in memory of this “big daddy” cocktail, I decided to make something even more memorable. Something immense. Something that is hopped to absolutely irresponsible levels. Something with enough alcohol to serve as a pleasing after dinner drink – or to stir crazy college students to perilous uproar (if they could afford it). I mixed up a delicious Imperial Black and Tan – enticing and intoxicating (is that redundant?):

As can be seen in the photo, this beer consists of two big beers: Sweetwater Happy Ending (the current vintage from this past winter) and Samuel Adams Imperial Pilsner (from 2007). Despite the fact that the glass looks more dark than light, it is mixed to about 50/50. I think that the ratio of final gravities in the two beers is different enough to prevent the perfect pour (i.e. the stout’s specific gravity is too close to that of the lager to let it easily float atop the other without some blending).

I will now close this novella with tasting notes of this blended beast:

  • Appearance: Surprisingly cloudy. Very dark brown with red and caramel-colored highlights when held to the light (after the two beers completely mixed). Head pours medium-thin and splotched with tan and white from the two beers. It subsides into a crescent of light tan, fine bubbles. A few spots and streaks of lace are left on the glass.
  • Aroma: Resiny and vinous with hops. There are also some notes of dried fruit and chocolate-covered toffees. And some alcohol, too.
  • Flavor: Starts sweet and hoppy with a mix of grainy sweetness, caramel, and crazy spicy nobles hops (thanks, Sammy!). There are some notes of toasted bread and coffee-like roasted grains, too. As the beer finds its way to mid-palate, there is an explosion of hop bitterness that is surprisingly docile compared to its individual constituents. Spicy hops with a touch of evergreen blend with toast, semi-sweet chocolate, and dark strong coffee. There are also notes of dark fruit esters (prunes, raisins) that fit wonderfully well amidst all these flavors. The finish is surprisingly dry and surprisingly familiar from other black and tans: a nice mix of hoppy, roasty stout and grainy, hoppy lager – but elevated by an order of magnitude.
  • Texture: The mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth and slippery – very full-bodied and creamy with a slight zip of carbonation.
  • Overall: Wow. This met my expectations exactly. It tasted exactly like what it is: a great big, irreponsibly-hopped “imperial” black and tan. ‘Nuff said.

I am now feeling a little bit dreary thanks to this experiment. Many thanks to Beer at Joe’s for coming up with this original (and evidently nostalgic – at least for me) topic.