Terrapin Brewing Company Darkside Belgian Imperial Stout

April 13, 2011

As summer approaches and the air begins to warm to a Beelzebub-approved temperature along our gulf coast, the average beer-drinkers’ mind is usually looking towards citris-ey, thirst-quenching weizens and IPA’s; certainly not some roasty, heavy stout or porter. Thankfully, the nights have been very pleasantly cool as of late making this the perfect time to head down to Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom to try yet another rarity for Pensacola: Terrapin Brewery’s Darkside.

The Darkside is a part of the brewery’s continuing Side Project Series where brewmaster Brian Buckowski shows off his creativity, improvisation and enthusiasm for the craft. Currently number 9 on their list of 10 Side Projects, the Darkside marks the fifth time a Side Project has been made available to Hopjacks. You see, brewers get bored making the same three-to-nine beers year round and occasionally dream up a beverage to challenge the notion of what a beer can be… usually re-inventing the wheel in the process. I know of many pale ale fans who’ve been ruined on the lighter fare after trying their first oak-aged double IPA. The other result of the brewers’ boredom is going back to a long-forgotten or not-usually-done style of beer. Thus is the case with Darkside.

Imperial stout. Let’s talk about that really quick. How does it differ from your run-of-the-mill ordinary stout? Back in the days of Catherine the Great and Tsar Nicholas and Rasputin (who has his own Russian Imperial named after him from Northcoast Brewing), the Russian court dearly loved the warming charms of a rich, dark-roasted stout during their brutal winters. At the time, Britain was producing the best and most popular stouts in Europe and the Russian royal court wanted as much as they could brew. They began using more malted grains and upped the yeast content to develop a style of dark ale which would satisfy the palates of the bone-chilled Russians. More malted grains meant more sugars for the additional yeast to convert into alcohol. Due to its final destination, the style took on the name “Imperial Stout.” Of course, other countries got into the act but Imperials never really caught on in balmier climes. They were too busy with their top-fermented lagers and pilsners. The Belgians, however, noticed that Imperial Stouts are extremely similar to their own rich dubbels and tripels. To this day, there’s not very many Belgian brewers producing Imperials. Leave it to forward-thinking American craft brewers to fill the void.

Terrapin’s Darkside is made from six roasted grains and real Trappist Monk ale yeast. The result is almost jet-black ale with a thick cap of creamy, almost cake-batter-like head which takes close to 20 minutes to fully disappear. Big notes of cocoa, toasted marshmallow and cashews dominate the beer’s aroma profile. Massive dark chocolate flavors melt away to hints of pumpernickel bread and dried cherries with a perfectly-crafted whisper of hop bitterness at the finish. Very smoky. Darkside’s mouthfeel is surprisingly smooth with no heavy astringency one usually finds in a stout. The 8.5% alcohol by volume is noticeable with a touch of heat in the back of the throat. Drinking this dynamic ale makes me think I’m sipping on hot chocolate gone cold but after spiking it with Granddad’s brandy while he’s out on his after-dinner walk. Beautiful.

As Terrapin only makes so much of this, most of which is bottled in a 22oz “bomber” format, for Hopjacks to have a single keg of it is a testament to their commitment to provide Pensacola with the best beers possible. Act fast, however, because Darkside, like the cool April evenings, will soon be gone.