Three Years of Black Cauldron

A Vertical Tasting of Black Cauldron Imperial Stout

This is the third year that we have brewed Black Cauldron Imperial Stout, and I thought this would be a good time to go back and taste the three editions side-by-side-by-side. Black Cauldron was first brewed as a part of our Cellar Reserve series a few years ago, and when we began our seasonal program, we brought it back to brew each winter. Imperial Stouts tend to age well, due to the happy convergence of high alcohol, high hopping rates, and a heavy use of black malt–three ingredients that all help to preserve beer.

Black Cauldron Imperial Stout

8.0% Alcohol by Volume
2007 (1 liter bottle), 2009 (12 oz bottle), and 2010 (750 ml bottle) editions

Tasting Notes from February 2011:
Each of the three brews pours the same color of jet black–no ruby highlights or brown lacing to get in the way of the deep black beer that fills the glass. Likewise, a thin and quickly disappearing tan head tops each glass.

The 2007 Black Cauldron (hereafter, just BC) has by far the deepest, most complex aroma. I’m happily surprised to see that the oxidation aromas (sometimes called “sherry-like” or “cardboard” or “band-aid”) are very slight. These aromas can be fine in very small doses, but have ruined many a fine beer by overpowering any other flavors. Among that light sherry aroma is a very dark caramel–almost burnt– and a black olive briny kind of savory flavor. A really nice almond, or perhaps cherry pit, aroma shows up on the finish, which is something I really didn’t expect.

In comparison, the 2009 and 2010 BCs don’t have nearly the depth in the aroma department. The 2010 is probably the lightest aroma, with just the faintest whiff of chocolate rising from the glass. The 2011 aroma is a little stronger, with more of a coffee emphasis.

When it comes time to finally taste, the 2007 BC really stands apart from the other two. Whether this is strictly from age, or from changes in recipes and ingredients, I can only imagine. What I do know is that the body on the 2007 is remarkably fuller and creamier than the other two years, both of which leave a sharpness on the tongue due to a carbonic bite from the higher carbonation levels. The 2007 BC reminds me so much of chocolate mousse–rich and chocolately but with a light, uplifting finish. There is still a touch of smoke lingering in this brew, but it is very subdued.

As for our more recent editions, the main difference lies between the emphasis on chocolate and coffee. These two flavors exist in nearly every stout in one form or another, and in our Black Cauldrons we seem to have a slight difference in one year to the next. The 2009 BC has a stronger chocolate flavor and a pretty clean finish. There is a bit of graininess in the middle, but not too much bitterness or sharpness.

The 2010 BC–our most recent edition–has a very strong dark roasted coffee flavor, and a somewhat roasty bitterness to match. Add to that a fresher hop bitterness level, and this brew tastes much more potent than the other two. This BC seems to actually have a little more balance than the 2009, and I think that in a couple years will match the complexity of the 2007.

Cellar Master Says: I’m amazed that three years of the same beer can all taste so differently. The 2007 Black Cauldron certainly tastes good now, and I encourage anyone out there hanging on to a bottle to pop the cap soon. The 2009 Black Cauldron is the most delicate of the three I tasted today, and I don’t expect it to stand up well to anymore aging. Go ahead and open this one, too. The 2010 Black Cauldron tastes young and impudent now, but in a couple of years should turn into a beer that is a little more refined and worthy of a special occasion.


Sheep Eater At One Year

Sheep Eater Scotch Ale’s First Birthday

We bottled our Sheep Eater Scotch Ale just about a year ago. At the time it was a big, rich, smoky beer that was pretty challenging to drink. The peat-smoked malt used in this brew was aggressive at bottling time, and I have been looking forward all year to see how this beer has mellowed and matured. Today’s tasting will show us if this beer has been tamed with time or if it is still as bold and brash as ever.

Sheep Eater Scotch Ale
7.5% Alcohol by Volume
Bottled January 2010

Original Description: Scotch Ales are some of the world’s most flavorful beers. Scotland’s cold, blustery climate lends itself to the growing of barley and oats, but not to the production of hops, which are almost always added sparingly.
The yeast must work at cooler temperatures than is customary for ales, resulting in maltier, cleaner, less fruity or estery, beers. The color often comes from black roasted malt, which imparts some dryness, but because of the lower attenuation and hopping rates, Scottish ales are almost always slightly sweet and incredibly drinkable.
Ours was brewed with black roasted barley, biscuit and peat-smoked malt. It was gently hopped, fermented cool and aged cold for weeks for smoothness. It is copper-brown in color, with some sweet maltiness and plenty of body.

Tasting Notes from January 2011:

Fills the glass a deep, deep garnet color. A thin tan head rests on top of the liquid filled with big, irregular bubbles that leaves sticky lacing all over the glass. A big raisin and dried plum aroma wafts out of the glass first, followed by a light, earthy smokiness.

The flavor is difficult to describe, because there are so many subtle flavors all playing together. Molasses and very dark caramel flavors play well together, and a toasted cracker brightness helps to contrast the richness. The mouthfeel is soft and mild, which is really perfect to keep all these flavors on the tongue instead of washing them away. After a few sips a surprising vanilla aroma shows up, with a bittersweet chocolate finish.

This somewhat bitter finish is actually the saving grace of this beer. This beer is rich and sweet, but having an astringent finish keeps the sweetness from becoming cloying, and clears the palate for the next sip. The smokiness ebbs in and out of the flavor, lending itself to anything from medicinal notes to smoky grilled meats.

Cellar Master Says: After one year in the bottle Sheep Eater has definitely mellowed. What was once a dominant smoke flavor has become a team player, melting into the richness of dark fruits and sugars. I would recommend uncapping this one soon. I think it will continue to develop for a few more months, but it seems to be teetering on a tipping point before the flavors begin to degrade. Serve at 55 degrees in a wide tulip or oversized wine glass.

Welcome Back, Coming Home!

Well it’s been a busy, sometimes frantic summer here at the brewery. We released two new Cellar Reserves that should still be on shelves right now–Tail Waggin’ Double White Ale and Trout Hop Black IPA. Besides the new releases, summer always means a huge spike in beer drinking, which means a huge spike in work for those of us privileged enough to make beer for you. With fall and winter comes our slower season–after all, how many outdoor barbecues happen in February?


The one exception to the rule is the holiday season, roughly Thanksgiving through Christmas. Between the holiday work parties, Thanksgiving dinners, and abundance of thoughtful friends who buy beer for gifts instead of electric socks, the holidays mean one little whirlwind of activity for brewers. In order to celebrate the holiday season, we here at Grand Teton Brewing we have decided to brew an annual holiday ale. Unlike many other holiday ales which are often flavored with festive spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, our inaugural edition refrains from additives and keeps it simple.

Coming Home Holiday Ale 2010
10% Alcohol by Volume
Bottled October 2010


From our website:

This Belgian-style Quadrupel ale is full-bodied and robust, boldly showcasing flavors of sweet dried fruits delivered on a smooth, velvety palate. Specialty malts and roasted barley give this beer a sweet malty aroma that complements its complex fruitiness. Brewed in the Belgian tradition with dark candi sugar and a Trappist ale yeast, Coming Home Holiday Ale is rich and flavorful, meant to be shared and savored among friends.

Tasting notes from November 2010:

I pour from a 750 ml bottle into my wide tulip. Coming Home is a deep amber color that turns into a glowing ruby when held to the light. There is a tall, tan head at first, but it quickly settles into a shallow, persistent foam that leaves light, delicate lacing around the glass. The aroma is intense and complicated. Let me see if I can sort out the cacophony of different aromas and make some sense of it all. Dark fruits are there, to be sure. Dates seem to be the main player, but I get whiffs of raisins–dark raisins baked in a Christmas pudding. There are glimmers of dark caramel, brandy (or is it butter?) cola, cinnamon, and all throughout a clean but invasive sense of alcohol. In short, this smells as much like a spirit as it does a beer.

The taste, thank goodness, is more straightforward than the smell. Here is where the fruits really dominate. Alcohol continues to press forward–it’s a very clean alcohol flavor; not fusel, but simply noticeable. It even seems to cool my tongue I breathe in. The sharp, prickly carbonation keeps the beer moving across the tongue, and as I swallow I encounter a bitter finish, much like a very dark baking chocolate, though not entirely welcome. Somehow through all this the beer comes out very rich without tasting sweet, in part due to a certain kind of briny flavor dappled with black tea overtures.

I find this beer goes well better with salty foods than sweet, despite the richness. Drink it with your turkey and gravy, or your beef roast with green bean casserole. I recommend a fairly warm drinking temperature of about 55 degrees, which means you should set the bottle out on your kitchen counter 10-15 minutes before you plan to partake. A wide tulip glass makes for a very nice presentation that will focus all those aromas for you. And as for aging this beer, the answer is a firm “yes!” Coming Home should hold up very well in your beer cellar. Check back often for many more updates on previous Cellar Reserves!

Post Your Notes plus Howling Wolf Turns One

Post Your Notes

Before getting to my own tasting notes, I want to take a minute to encourage all of you to share your tasting notes, too. I’d like to see people who have decided to open their own bottle of Cellar Reserve share their own tasting notes with the rest of us. By collaborating with each other, all of us can improve our own tasting skills, and learn a little more about these beers. Just add a comment at the bottom of the post for whichever beer you’ve got tasting notes for. Now on to the beer!

Howling Wolf Weizenbock Turns One

Today we have a tasting of our Howling Wolf Weizenbock, bottled 1 year ago. Most wheat beers are not good candidates for aging, but weizenbocks are one exception to that rule. Howling Wolf is an example of a pale-colored weizenbock. Many examples of American-made weizenbocks are dark in color, and are very similar to a doppelbock. However, pale weizenbocks are popular in Germany; a couple of examples include Weihenstephan Vitus and Ayinger Weizenbock. These beers can almost be described as imperial hefeweizens, as the flavor characteristics of both hefeweizens and weizenbocks are very similar. You can expect the same mix of banana and clove flavors in both beers, only intensified in the weizenbock.

Howling Wolf Weizenbock

8% Alcohol by Volume
Bottled May 2009

Original Description: Howling Wolf Weizenbock was crafted with 40% wheat malt, including German dark wheat and caramel wheat malts, and minimally spiced with Liberty hops, an American version of the famous German Hallertau Mittelfruh.

Like all Bavarian weizen beers, the yeast is the star of the show. We used an authentic Bavarian top-fermenting ale yeast that naturally produces flavors of cloves, bananas, bubblegum, green apples, smoke, and even vanilla. When this yeast ferments a very strong beer, the resultant weizenbock is a wonderfully complex brew hiding its 8% wallop under swirls of fruit and spice aroma–raisins, dates, prunes, bananas, cloves–and fruity, bready, chocolaty, caramel grain flavors.

Tasting Notes from May 2010:

A loud pssssht escapes from the cap as I open the bottle. A small gush of foam spills over the lip, telling me the high level of carbonation has kept well over the past year, and I set the bottle in the sink for a minute to settle down. The sudden burst of excitement has upset the sediment at the bottom of the bottle, so there are a few particles floating around my glass once I finally fill it. The color is a deep, burnished gold and the beer is hazy, topped by a rocky white head that leaves thick lacing around the edge of the glass.
There’s a light caramel aroma–not that the aroma is light, just the caramel. It’s more like a sweet, butter caramel than a burnt sugar flavor. That same richness carries over into the flavor, which is both full-bodied and effervescent, leading to a beer that really fills the mouth. The flavors are surprisingly delicate for such a massive beer. The clearest flavor is that of banana, but not the one-note banana you find in most weissbiers. Imagine a perfectly yellow banana with no brown spots and a green stem and you can imagine what this beer tastes like–a banana that’s ripe but not sugary. It’s a unique combination, and something I’ve never tasted in a beer before.
There is a lingering sweetness here, but a dry, bubbly finish sweeps it away, making that second and third sip just as enjoyable as the first. A hint of white pepper presents itself for a moment, then fades. Vanilla does the same. More and more I taste the just-barely-ripe banana, with brief glances of other flavors every couple of sips. It strikes me that this would be the perfect beer with flan, creme brulee, or any other custard-based dessert.

Cellar Master Says: Well, I can honestly say I’ve never had a beer quite like this before. I can’t make any definitive statements, but I would guess that Howling Wolf is just about hitting its peak. Try to find an occasion to drink this in the next few months. I have a hunch the complexity will start to fade soon and you’ll be left with a simple, sweet, caramel-flavored beer.

The Cellar Master’s Art and XX Bitch Creek Tasting

What does a Cellar Master do all day? Wait, mostly. Whether I’m aging beer in bottles, kegs, barrels or steel tanks, waiting is the true art of cellaring. Wait too long and you’ve got a beer that is over-oaked, too sour, oxidized or just plain stale. Impatience leads to beers that are undeveloped, flat, boozy, or simply don’t reach their potential.

At Grand Teton Brewing, the Cellar Master is responsible for all of our specialty beer projects. That includes the cask ale served in our pub (not much waiting required for that), barrel-aged beers, and other flavored beer projects. For example, I’ve got a keg of our Fest Bier aging on roasted chile peppers (about a 2 week project) and a bourbon-barrel full of Double Vision Doppelbock that has caught a wild yeast of some sort and is beginning to taste like cherries and sour a bit (about a 1 year project).

As you already know, I am also responsible for holding regular tastings of our Cellar Reserve beers so we can let beer drinkers like you know how these beers are developing with age. My fellow brewers help me out with these tastings, since five sets of taste buds will discover more flavors than just one.

Speaking of tastings, here are some notes on our XX Bitch Creek, bottled about a year and a half ago.

XX Bitch Creek

7.5% Alcohol by Volume
Bottled September 2008

Original Description:

Bitch Creek ESB was first brewed in 2003, and perfectly balances big malt sweetness and robust hop flavor for a full-bodied mahogany ale. It has quickly become our best-selling beer, as well as our most-critically acclaimed, having won medals-including two golds— at four out of the past five Great American Beer Festivals.

XX Bitch Creek Double ESB is all that and more. We took the Bitch Creek recipe and doubled everything: double the malt, double the hops, twice the flavor.

Tasting Notes from March 2010:

Slides into a small snifter the deepest color of red you can imagine. The beer is crystal clear but of such a dark hue it seems almost black until held to the light. It’s like watching a deep burgundy sunset through a few inches of cold, clear water. A thin, tan head tops off the scene, providing a perfectly balanced counterpoint to the body–Contrapunctus I in a glass.

The aroma is piney, promising a good heap of hop flavors to come rushing out of that first sip. That’s not all, though; an earthiness–almost musky–lies just around the corner, and this aroma makes no promises.

The flavor is mostly malt-driven. Roasty, dark chocolate flavors abound, creating a sharp, dry bitterness. Just as the dark malt flavors starts to fade a more substantial, lingering hop bitterness slides in, barely noticed, to loiter on the palate. After a few sips a touch of nuttiness arrives, leaving a fairly dry finish despite the very full body. Given the massive amount of flavor packed into this beer, I keep expecting to catch a whiff of fusel alcohols or some other harshness, but I detect none. The XX Bitch Creek is clean, complex, and intelligent.

Cellar Master Says: The time to drink is now, my friends. If you’ve been patient enough to hold onto this beer drink it soon. The flavors have really developed into a cohesive yet nuanced beer. However, I sense that before long the balance of hop and malt bitterness will begin to collapse, leaving this beer a crumbling shadow of its former self.

Meet the Cellar Master and Doppelbock Tasting Notes

Before we get to the latest tasting notes, let me take a moment to introduce myself:

My name is Reid Stratton, and I am the Cellar Master at Grand Teton Brewing Company. Let me clarify, however, that I actually only spend about 5% of my working time on Cellar Master duties. Most of the time I am your average brewer. That means I make wort, clean tanks, drop yeast, clean lines, dry hop beers, clean the floor, and clean some more. I’ll spend some time in a later post letting you know what exactly a Cellar Master does (besides blogging about beer).

When I’m not at work I spend a lot of time baking (my former profession), cooking, homebrewing, and playing with my two cats (who will eat spent grains if I leave any around). Of course, living at the base of the Tetons means I also spend a lot of time skiing, hiking, camping, and generally being outdoors.
That’s enough about me. Let’s get to the beer!

Double Vision Doppelbock
8% Alcohol by Volume
Bottled February 2009

Original Description:

Our Double Vision Doppelbock is brewed with Idaho 2-Row Pale and German Munich, CaraAroma, CaraMunich and de-husked Carafa malts to an original gravity of 24 Plato (1.096 SG). The malts provide a dark leather color with ruby notes, a luxurious tan head, and a bready aroma with a hint of smoke. It is lightly spiced with Liberty hops, an American version of the noble German Hallertau Mittelfruh, and fermented with lager yeast from a monastery brewery near Munich. In the traditional manner, Double Vision is fermented cold (48 F) and lagered a full 10 weeks for smoothness. At over 8% alcohol by volume, it is a deceptively drinkable springtime warmer.

Tasting Notes from March 2010:

Double Vision slides into the glass a very dark chocolate brown, but when held to the light turns into a beautiful ruby red, clear as crystal and very alluring. A thin, tan head makes a brief appearance but quickly fades from the glass. The aroma is slight, with a whiff of roasted malt and a touch of alcohol.

The flavor unfolds slowly. It reminds me of watching the ensemble cast of some great tragedy–dark and delicious, but with no single part playing the lead. Bitter chocolate, light sherry, dark, sweetened fruits and burnt toast all make a brief, yet touching appearance. The finish is very warming, with a thick, sticky mouthfeel that dries out pleasantly thanks to a bit of tannin and lively carbonation. A square of milk chocolate melts on your tongue as you swallow the final sip.

Cellar Master Says: Double Vision is aging beautifully. Drink it now if you wish for a bold experience, or wait another year if you want to see an even smoother, more eloquent beer.

Welcome to the Underground

Welcome to the Grand Teton Brewing Co. blog, “Notes from Underground”. This blog will provide a place for our Cellar Master to provide tasting notes on our Cellar Reserve beers as they change over the months and years. He will update the blog regularly as new Cellar Reserves are released and old ones are sampled during our regular tasting panels. We envision this site being utilized by folks who buy a bottle or two of a Cellar Reserve beer to age and want to see how it’s progressing with time.

But first, some information on our Cellar Reserve program:

The Grand Teton Cellar Reserves are literally “Big Beers in a Big Bottle”. These high alcohol beers, available in 1 liter bottles, are brewed with the intention that consumers can “lay down” their beer for several months, or even years. With age, these beers will develop and change, becoming more complex and mature. Each batch is bottle-conditioned, creating natural carbonation, a creamy head, and a fine layer of yeast on the bottom of each bottle.

Our Cellar Master recommends storing the Cellar Reserve bottles vertically in an area free of light. Keep the beers in a spot that doesn’t fluctuate temperature too much, ideally between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

We highly suggest you sign-up to receive email notifications when we add new tasting notes. You wouldn’t want to miss out when we declare your bottle of beer in peak condition! You will only receive emails about this blog, and of course your email address will not be shared with anyone.

And now for the beer! The first tasting comes from the back of the cellar. This was a real treasure we found while digging through a stack of old beer that has aged beautifully. Check back soon for tasting notes on our Double Vision Doppelbock, bottled 1 year ago.

Oud Bruin, Belgian-Style Ale
6% Alcohol by Volume
Bottled April 2007

Original Description:

Our Oud Bruin is firmly in the East Flanders tradition. We used American 2-row barley and German melanoidin malt (for red color) as well as maize (to lighten the body). The wort was simmered in the kettle for 24 hours and then hopped lightly with English Kent Goldings for balance.

We fermented with a Flemish blend of yeast and bacteria cultures, including lactobacillus, pediococcus, and brettanomyces. It took six months at cellar temperature for the culture to achieve the style’s characteristic quenching sourness. Finally, we bottle-conditioned the beer according to the “methode champenoise,” so it, too, can be laid down, to be brought out when it can be truly enjoyed.

Tasting Notes from February 2010:

Oud Bruin erupts from the bottle a hazy amber, which is surprising for how long the beer has had to settle. Perhaps the column of foam shooting from the open bottle has stirred things up a bit. A thick, cream-colored head sits atop the glass like a dollop of whipped cream. Don’t be shy about sipping through the foam, even if it sticks to your moustache. A few large flakes of sediment swirl around the glass, but settle to the bottom in due time.

A firm sour cherry aroma greets the nose, along with a bit of rummy sweetness. The combination is almost like Cherries Jubilee in a bottle, which sounds like a great idea for future a Cellar Reserve. The body is thin, but very well carbonated. A faint flavor of toasted whole-grain bread is complemented by a very light acidity, and finished off by just a hint of nuttines–perhaps hazelnuts or almonds. At the finish a hint of demerara sugar lingers on the tongue; a contemplative finish to a rather lively beer.

Cellar Master Says: I’m really fascinated by how well this beer has developed. At only 6% alcohol I’m surprised it has held up this well, but it is well-balanced and offers a fascinating buffet of experiences. While I’d like to hold on to this even longer, I think that Oud Bruin is probably due to start heading downhill soon, so I suggest you open up that bottle you’ve stashed away now. Serve at 45 degrees in a wide tulip.