With NYC Beer Week 2016 in full swing, deciding on which events to attend each night becomes a bit challenging, to say the least. But on Monday, February 22, the choice was non-negotiable: Brooklyn Brewery invited select guests to attend the twenty-first birthday of the Black Chocolate Stout.
This was no ordinary birthday party. The Black Chocolate Stout holds significance at Brooklyn Brewery for several reasons. One is that the beer’s recipe was essentially the entry point into Brooklyn Brewery for Garrett Oliver, now brewmaster, who has since risen to worldwide fame for his beer making and beer-and-food pairing prowess. Another is that at the time of its original brew date in 1994, the beer, an imperial stout, was the most radical stout many beer drinkers had ever seen or tasted. Chocolate in a beer name?! Ten percent alcohol by volume?!
Finally, and perhaps most significantly for birthday bash attendees, the brewery has held onto nearly a dozen bottled iterations of the imperial stout since its origins. Originally announcing 10 vintages would be available, it turned out that there are, in fact, 11 vintages of Black Chocolate Stout available — a surprise 2007 was available on draft — making this event even more unique than we originally thought. The icing on the cake—the figurative one, not the chocolate one— was tasting and comparing each chocolately vintage with sweet early 2000’s tunes to sip to.
Black Chocolate Stout Turns 21: Tasting Timeline
Looking, Listening and Sipping Through the Years
2015 | The Year of Black Chocolate Stout’s Actual Birthday
The Sips: Smooth, creamy cocoa, lightly sweet on the palate with a dry finish
The Sounds: Mark Ronson – Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars
2014 | The Year of Kim Kardashian’s Paper Cover, Pharrell’s Ugly Hat, and the Craft Beer Revolution by Steve Hindy
The Sips: A bit boozier and oilier, retaining the light sweetness and dry finish
The Sounds: Pharrell Williams – Happy
2013 | The Year of the Hunger Games, the Pope and Edward Snowden
The Sips: Poured a deep, leather-colored head, less cream and more booze
The Sounds: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop Feat. Wanz
2012 | The Year of the End of the World
The Sips: “You can taste the panic,” noted Molly Cichy, graphic designer at Brooklyn Brewery. Dry berry and leathery notes on the nose.
The Sounds: Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra)
2011 | The Year of Helvetica, the Oxford Companion to Beer by Garrett Oliver, and Tina Fey Looking Exactly Like Sarah Palin
The Sips: Roast and coffee notes are stronger now, harsher, brass-like quality to the finish, age really starts to show here.
The Sounds: Adele – Rolling in the Deep
2009 | The Year of the Hangover, Poker Face and The Guy Who Made This Poster Graduating High School, We Guess
The Sips: Bitter but fruity again, hints of sourness in the way of a Flemish Red
The Sounds: The Black Eyed Peas – Boom Boom Pow
2008 | Election Year, AKA the Year of the Boring Campaign Poster
The Sips: Still get the cocoa flavors but something new surfaces—our pourer suggested macadamia nut, an interesting note
The Sounds: Low – Flo Rida Lyrics
2007 | ***Special Draft Release in the Taproom***
The Year the Beer Went Sour
The Sips: Served a little cold, and shocking! Subtleties of 2009 (and prior years) are lost to INTENSE sour notes.
[VIDEO: Stay Tuned for Garrett Oliver singing happy birthday, in baritone.]
The Sounds: Garrett Oliver – Happy Birthday Black Chocolate Stout (Baritone)
2006 | The Year of Apples to Apples, Snakes on a Plane and Pluto’s Planet Demotion
The Sips: This is where things got a little vague. Ironically, this is also the year Garrett Oliver told me was his favorite. According to Oliver, this is where “it’s still young, but you get the best parts of being old.”
The Sounds: Justin Timberlake – SexyBack (Director’s Cut) ft. Timbaland
2005 | The Year of YouTube, Homestar Runner and the Twilight Disaster
The Sips: Stabilizing, past the turn of age and funkiness, similar to 2006
The Sounds: Mariah Carey – We Belong Together
2004 | The Year Some Very Smart Person at Brooklyn Brewery Decided to Start Saving Black Chocolate Stout Bottles
The Sips: So gentle and mellow, dark chocolate lingers on the tongue but not too harsh
The Sounds: Usher – Yeah! ft. Lil Jon, Ludacris
The Black Chocolate Stout simultaneously aged with extremes and with grace. The experience of tasting 11 versions of a very special stout, side by side, was unparalleled. Yet, after soaking in all of that boozy wisdom of over a decade’s worth of a single beer, one question remained: What happened to 2010?