Not too long ago I heard an interview with Adam Avery of Avery Brewing Company. He was admittedly blown away by how much beer he sells in Northwest Arkansas. The brewery’s namesake was used to selling truckloads of beer in all the usual places, but Fayetteville, Arkansas? When Avery hit the scene, it hit HARD. There was a time when the only beer I could find in my friends’ refrigerators was Avery IPA. Avery slapped us in the face with its big taste, big aroma, and – most importantly – big hops. It raised the bar at retail, giving beer drinkers a bold alternative to the traditional (and more subdued) standbys Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. Back then Adam Avery could have told you Fayetteville was on the verge of a beer renaissance – as evidenced by the recent explosion in local breweries and brew pubs. He was selling tons of beer well before the latest round of mash tuns fired up in the ‘Nam.
In honor of Halloween I decided to review Avery’s Mephistopheles Stout, the final installment of “The Demons of Ale” series (which also includes Samael’s Oak Aged Ale and The Beast Grand Cru Ale). Mephistopheles is an Imperial Stout, a style characterized by rich, boozy malt and plenty of hops to balance the load. Avery’s website has this to say about the beer:
Mephistopheles is the crafty shape shifter, the second fallen angel. Amazingly complex, coal black, velvety and liquorish, this demon has a bouquet of vine-ripened grapes, anise and chocolate covered cherries with flavors of rum-soaked caramelized dark fruits and a double espresso finish…
I picked up a 12-ounce bottle at Liquor World for just under $8. This seems like a hefty price for one bottle of beer, but the ABV weighs in at a hefty 16.2% – nearly three times the alcohol found in a typical beer. Mephistopheles is to be enjoyed slowly, over time. Drinking more than one poses the threat of public embarrassment, personal injury – or dare I say demonic possession?
The beer poured a deep, dark velvety-black. It was rather opaque in its opaqueness. It was as if light from the sun itself would fail to penetrate its black envelope of malted roast. A bed of brown foam float on top of the black oil slick, quickly disappearing as the beer settled into the glass. The resulting concoction was reminiscent of an Americano, espresso-like in appearance. The surface of the beer was like black glass, with a swirl of fine brown froth around the edges.
Swirling the glass to release the aroma, I found notes of boozy chocolate and roasted grains. I tasted the beer and was immediately reminded of the 16.2% ABV found on the label (which – by the way – has a frightening depiction of a demon, horns and all). If coffee shops sold an alcoholic espresso shot, this would be it. The mouth feel was creamy, but viscous – both chewy and substantial. Other reviews I read online, including Avery’s own, noted liquorish characteristics. More prominent to me were dark fruit flavors, including a prune-like characteristic that was interesting and pleasant instead of off-putting. Bitterness was strong, with a definite bite on the back and sides of the tongue. Dark chocolate and caramelized grain provided sweetness to help restrain the strong alcoholic backbone. Each sip pushed the blood in my cheeks higher and higher, creating a steady warming effect. This is the beer I want with me if stranded in a blizzard without a heavy coat or blanket.
Mephistopheles is a slow sipper, for sure. It would make a terrific post-meal libation, much like a cognac or fine sipping whisky. The beer’s chocolate and espresso characteristics lend themselves nicely to pairings with desserts such as chocolate cake or mousse – or maybe even chocolate from your kid’s trick-or-treating bag. It certainly seems like an appropriate beer to enjoy on the holiday we spend celebrating the evil things in life.