Sam Adams' small batch series bombers are kind of a hit-or-miss prospect, but for some reason I always like to see what they come up with. The label claims this brew to be a "gingerbread stout" made with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and, surprise, ginger! For some reason it also lists which hops are used (English varieties, so I figure this will be more akin to an English stout than an American one, but one can't quite be sure given the spices), but not which malts (possibly more relevant for the style in question). In addition to this seeming like an interesting beer, it will also mark the first "Winter" themed beer reviewed on Original Gravity, and I can drink to that!
Decided to pour this one into my bomber-sized glass, so I'm really getting the full effect of this big, dark beer right up front. There's some very faint ruby highlights to this if you bother holding it up to light, but otherwise, it's a typical stout pour with a frothy, huge, dark-brown, reddish head and really nice, tiered yet abstract lacing. Smells creamy and almost sarsaparilla-like (probably due to the ginger) with sweet and spicy notes floating to the surface; extremely interesting scent with lots of things going on! Notes of bready malt alongside the typically roasted malts are refreshing and help lighten the mood. Spicing seems heavy handed in the nose, with the cinnamon in particular fighting for space. Some vanilla extract and espresso-like roasted malt scents are also noted. Alcohol is somewhat of a mess on the nose, as is typical for some of SA's bigger beers; the beer is ester-y and distracted by too much going on. I think, at this point, that it must have something to do with their yeast under-performing at higher gravities. Regardless of this flaw, which honestly I pretty much accept when drinking beers over 7 percent by SA, this smells pretty great! It's interesting and definitely reminiscent of a "classic" stout at times, but does enough differently in the nose to bring a dimension to it that I can honestly say I've never experienced before. Nutty, sweet and sugary with a whole lot of spices going on. My first sip is definitely creamy with a soft yet nicely present carbonation bringing forward notes of wheat malt, pie crust, milk chocolate, orange, vanilla and clove followed by dry cinnamon and ginger. Hops close this out succinctly with lemony, citric bite and some flowery qualities... only average bitterness but sensible for a bigger stout. There may be a little bit of lactose in this beer, but it's reigned in compared to the spices. If it's there, that would account for some of the additional creaminess on order; likely an attempt to counter whatever was lost to the dryness of the spices.
As I could tell from the nose, the alcohol isn't incredibly well-hidden; it is most present in the middle with big, fruity and even savory esters taking hold... near the finish it loses to the aggressive spice and sweet malt backing. Some English toffee-like flavor opens up as the beer warms and helps balance out the dry spiciness; I'd definitely recommend slightly above room temperature for this beer to get the most out of it. However, even when it's at the proper temperature, it feels like it should be maltier or have fuller body; I get a light-ish medium feel on this for such a high gravity brew. It's most likely focused on drinkability, possibly in a way that is at odds with its challenging palate... I'm not convinced that's the best approach but it's very flavorful and actually quite evocative of a gingerbread cookie, so I'd consider that a success for SA here. They've attempted some bigger beers that have been less than stellar, and this is not really one of them; it's got its kinks and it could be improved with age, but as it stands, this is probably a good choice for a warmer as the weather gets colder. A good challenge would probably be to get together with friends to build a gingerbread house after splitting a few bottles of this strong brew... if you do so, please post pictures of your results! Until next time!
The official breakdown:
- Style: American Imperial Stout (brewed with spices)
- ABV: 9%
- Appearance: Deep black with very minimal highlights; excellent, compact, rusty brown head with surprising lacing
- Scent: Medicinal; anise, powdered cinnamon and vanilla extract, roasted chocolate malt, crystalline sugar; somewhat ester-y
- Taste: Sweet and creamy with a pretty decent balance between clove-y phenols and a roasted malt approach. Tastes very much like a gingerbread man, actually!
- Mouthfeel: Creamy with light-to-medium carbonation and a nice, coating slickness; might be on the thin side, though. Overall, not bad
- Drinkability: Amusingly both good and bad. It drinks pretty easy especially given the strangeness, but the alcohol is a bit of a mess here and there