Game of Thrones. Originally the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, now a hit TV series on HBO. I love the books, I love the series, and now, I’ve discovered a Game of Thrones beer. Hell yes. It’s Ommegang’s Take the Black Stout, presented in a massive bomber bottle, complete with cork and cage. So, everyone say a prayer to the Old Gods, and let’s go drink.
After popping the cork, rich vapors rise up, bringing notes of chocolate, anise, roasted malts, and a slight hoppy tang that pushes everything forwards. A muted smokiness creep in at the beginning, becoming stronger and more pronounced the longer you inhale. The faintest traces of sweetness are buried under the dark notes, like a ranger lost beyond the wall. The aroma profile is unlike most stouts I’ve ever tried. It’s almost spicy, though still bringing the usual roasted, chocolate darkness that several stouts..tout… Anyway, let’s see what the tongue has to say.
From the instant it hits your tongue, the flavor is super smokey, colored by a mild bitterness. It has a very dry feel, with none of the sweet, syrupy earthiness found in other stouts. The flavors start crazy strong, lingering for a few seconds before disappearing into a faint maltiness. I’m really into the potency of the smoke. It’s quite a bracing change from the sweetness of an Imperial Stout. It’s also fairly carbonated which, alongside its dryness, almost make the flavors effervesce from the tongue. It has a grim, weathered feel, like it’s forgoing anything remotely happy, in order to achieve a cold, dark solitude. Now, this doesn’t mean it tastes bad, but where as many stouts are consumed to keep a person warm during the cold winter months, this beer doesn’t feel like that at all. If it were a person, it’d be the grizzled, mysterious old guy at the end of the bar, casting an evil eye out over the crowd every now and then.
Poured into a pint glass, the aromas are surprisingly light and floral. All traces of smoke are gone, instead focusing on a mysterious absence of, well, just about everything. There’s a fleeting hint of malts, but it disappears quickly. It pours a Night’s Watch Black, with a dark tan head that stays thick and airy for a while. Small bubbles curtain the outside of the glass from a slight carbonation, rising up from the bottom.
Now, the flavors from the pint glass are back with a vengeance. It’s just as smokey, but sweet notes decide to make an appearance. They head toward the back of the tongue, while the bitter smoke takes up the rest. The taste morphs int a deeply roasted maltiness that lingers for a while, before changing into a bold coffee at the end. A subtle tang ropes everything in, keeping the flavors concentrated and potent. After a few drinks, a hint of chocolate makes an approach, but its presence is barely recognizable, falling under the might of the roasted smoke flavors.
In the end, I’m not sure I would call this a true “stout”. It’s a bit too crisp and brutally dry to be considered in the same category. Perhaps it would be better classified as a Belgian Black, or a Belgian Stout. (Actually, after picking this up, I’ve now seen it listed as a Belgian Stout. So, I guess I was right!) Despite its radical differences from stouts, I loved it. Refreshing, deep, and flavorful, it bursts out past the cork as a storm of evil mystery to rival anything from the north. Take your time with it, as with any rich, flavor packed beer, and make sure not to chill it. A room temperature serving will keep the flavors lively. The dryness of this beer may be a bit of a turn off from those expecting a clingy stout feel, but if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, and huge dark flavors, you can’t go too wrong here. It’s a bit pricey, at around $9 for a bottle, but it’s a bomber sized bottle that flies from the shelves before they have a chance to be unpacked from their shipping boxes, so $9 may seem like a steal to you.
I suggest drinking this during a powerful snow storm; over the course of an afternoon, re-watching every episode of the series; and right before you go out on a ranging. It’ll make any Sam Tarly feel like a Jon Snow. Ommegang’s Take the Black Stout earns a stout approved A-. Remember, Winter is coming, so stock up on beer.
Lasting Strength: 8.5/10
Overall: 9/10 A-