Hand Brew Co show they are coming of barrel age, releasing their first cask conditioned Impy Stout, Staggering in the Dark
Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Water, Malted Barley, Glucose Syrup, Hops, Yeast. (vegan friendly)
Grist = Chevallier, Light Munich, Crystal 240, Brown and Roast Barley.
Hops = Pilgrim for bittering and Phoenix just before end boil.
£9.50 for 500ml (limited edition of 650 bottles)
My Tasting Notes
A blend of creamy milk chocolate, hazelnut, brandy cream and rum and raisin aromas greet you. Inviting without being overpowering.
The first sip is feather-light in the mouth, smooth as silk and a little foamy with some short-lived initial sweetness. This brought to my mind the froth you’d get on top of cup of rich dark hot chocolate.
Rich cacao and fruity espresso notes run through and it finishes with a little of the bitter, burnt charring flavours that Kate (head brewer) alludes to below. This only makes you crave another swallow of the initial silky smoothness. Despite the 10.2% there’s no alcohol burn and it’s easy to gulp through a glass without feeling the strength. I suggest it’s one for sharing.
This is a warming and comforting beer to drink. I’m not sure whether it’s simply because I know there’s traces of whisky in the mix, but you certainly get the impression that this is a drink to bring out as an indulgence at the end of an evening. Just like a good whisky, I could see myself putting my feet up late evening and thoughtfully taking my time with a glass, mulling over the complex depths of flavour.
above photos courtesy of Milly Fletcher
Q & A
I’m at the Hand in Hand in Kemptown on a Friday afternoon with delicious and dark intentions. 😋 The tables are filling up by the minute and I feel both honoured and anticipative as I slip into a reserved seat opposite one of Hand Brew Co.’s Director, Clark Left and Head Brewer, Kate Hyde.
I’m here to learn about, and of course sample the fruits of, Hand Brew Co’s first barrel ageing project, an Imperial Stout finally awoken from it’s 9 month slumber and ready for drinking.
Before I started recording you were just saying that this is a ltd edition run, how many are there?
(Kate Hyde) – So we did 650 of the 500ml and 36 bottles at 750ml. The 750ml bottles are only available from the taproom in Worthing. The 500ml are available online, through our pubs and some good beer stockists. Also every single bottle has been hand numbered and in fact hand labelled..
Wow. That is a very personal touch.
(KH) – Yeah, well we specifically chose these bottles because we thought they’d go through our canning line, but the glass confused it and so we had to do it manually. So every other bottle you might notice that they aren’t perfect.
It’s the wonderful idiosyncrasies of a personal touch and doing it by hand though
(KH) – Yeah, i’m pleased that they are a little bit wonky, just like us.
(Clark Left) – and all hand wax dipped as well
(KH) – yeah wax dipped. I found a company to do a custom matched deep purple wax to match the label.
Oh yes, very nice. So tell us about the liquid inside.
(KH) – yeah thats the important bit right.
(KH) – So staggering in the dark, out first and well only imperial stout we brought out October 2021. We kept 800 litres of it back and put it into 4 different bourbon casks, Jim Bean, Jack Daniels and Barton 1792
I’ve not heard of those last 2, I’ll have to look them up
(KH) – To be honest I hadn’t either. The original plan was to age them for 9 months because the Hand in Hand has an event on the last Thursday in August called Staggering in the Dark – and that in and of itself is a beautiful story and an amazing event. It’s about people coming together, lit by candle light, reciting poetry and remembering people they love. Basically sharing voices and lighting a candle for loved ones and memories.
So we were originally planning to bring it out for that, after 9 months in barrel, but we tasted it, and while we were happy, we felt it could go a bit longer so we saved it for Christmas. We then blended of the four barrels together into one tank.
So were these casks specially selected for certain flavours, or was it a bit of a fluke that it just blended well?
(KH) – i guess it was a bit.
It’s our first experience of barrel ageing and it’s like anything you do for the first time, like going on holiday somewhere, you ask around and you get recommendations and then you go there and you get to know it for yourself and you build your own experience. It was a bit like that that with us and barrel ageing. We asked around and found a really great cooperage. We told them what we wanted, we knew we wanted bourbon, we knew we wanted first fill. Their master cooper Alistair really gave us lots of help and his advice was to mix it up.
What was brilliant was when we tasted them individually they each had incredibly distinctive tastes; one would be smokey, one would be oaky and vanillary, one would be fruity and datey, one would taste like old leather. They were beautiful individually, and I love the idea of one day doing a SITD series, like an Islay version and a Speyside version, maybe even a Mescal version.
But with this being our first foray into barrel ageing I think what we’ve got in the bottle is a more complex product than they were individually, bringing together all that fruitiness, leatheriness, tobacco, oak, all of that char.
all that cha?
(KH) – yeah the barrels are all charred
oh I see.. i was thinking tea.. a cup of cha..
So what is the abv of this?
(KH) – this is 10.2%
and was that the aim, to be 10%+?
(KH) – So you’re blending things with different gravities and the usual gravity calculation system doesn’t work. I mean we had the original Imperial at 9% and before packaging this we had to wait and send it off for abv testing knowing that the abv would have changed in the barrels because its absorbing alcohol.
Secretly though I wanted this to be over 10% as when I first moved to Brighton I met a couple of people and we started a 10% imperial stout club where we’d pair Impy stouts with a meal and one of us cook. So I’m pleased about that because this has a nod to the old club.
Aha, and that comes onto another question I had, about whether there is a food pairing you’d suggest for when drinking this?
(KH) – If i was taking this to a dinner party with a really really nice dark chocolate, for enjoying after dinner, after desert, and everyone have a square of plain dark chocolate with it.
and that brings out certain flavours does it?
(KH) – It brings out those roasty notes, the vanilla in the barrels
(CL) – Do you think this could go well with a steak?
(KH) – I think it would go well with a charred steak, some beef that has been seared on the outside over an open flame. Something that has smokey richness to the crust with the rare meat inside, I think would work beautifully.
I think we need to open up a bottle right now and have a taste. (That’s right, up to now we still hadn’t even been tasting, so Kate pours us some out and we do some tasting…)
I’m getting lots of creaminess initially and boozey, brandy cream like aromas..
(KH) – It’s really smooth and you get a bit of acidity right at the very end in the side of your cheek, which makes it comparable with wine and makes it great for food pairing. Something big and rich and deep like a beef bourguignon.
You’re right, it’s so smooth, soft and fluffy and beautiful in the mouth. And considering it’s 10% it feels light. There’s a bit of acidity like you say, but it’s not alcohol burn, it’s wonderfully rounded. Then there’s coffee with some burnt charing that you mentioned. Gorgeous, really.
(KH) – Thank you so much. Yeah this was our training wheels at barrel ageing and so for it to turn out so well, we’re really pleased. We used a British hop in it as well, Phoenix, which is supposed to have a treacle character, we used that at the end of the whirlpool.
and whats the grain bill?
(KH) – We used Chevalier as the base, it’s a British heritage malt that doesn’t get used a lot. along with light Munich, Crystal, Crown and toasted barley.
What’s a heritage malt?
(KH) – It’s just really old and traditional. It was found by accident I think, the guy that discovered it found it by accident on a walk, it got caught on his boot and he cultivated it and it made this perfect brewing malt. [There’s more on the story here] It’s known for having flavours of marmalade and deep biscuit. And because we were brewing something totally new and different for us we decided to use something extra special.
and I assume that is a more expensive ingredient
(KH) Yes, lots more expensive.
and it’s noticeably not a sweet beer, it’s on the bitter, coffee and cacao, side of things..
(KH) – Yeah when Jack and I were discussing this we were clear we wanted it to be an Imperial Stout full stop. Not an adjunct heavy, milky stout. All of our beers are vegan anyway, and with Hatch [2022 Ltd edition chocolate orange fudge porter] we have worked to make that viscosity without using lactose, and similarly, with Staggering in the Dark, we wanted to create body without lactose, and personally I don’t like that sickly, back of the throat claggy finish you can get with lactose. So we’ve learned the ropes with something simple and then we can play with it later.
Well I just want to keep it in my mouth as long as possible to be honest
It’s rich and the mouthfeel is wonderful. The finish makes me want another sip. Love it, love it.