Guess Who’s Back: New Glarus Unplugged Cherry Stout

19 Feb

Dan Carey, local overlord of fruit and beer, never met a cherry he didn’t want to throw in an oak barrel.  From his venerable Wisconsin Belgian Red to the appropriately named Enigma, Mr. Carey has found a way to coax out the rich essence of the fruit and imbue it with the subtle nuances of his wooden vessels (not bad, eh?).  Cherry Stout was an Unplugged release from February of 2006 and initially threw me for a loop.  Expecting something in the ballpark of Bell’s Cherry Stout – a rich, chewy dessert of a beer – I was flummoxed by the translucent mahogany color and light body of New Glarus’ version.  I shouldn’t be able to see through a stout, I thought.  And while I enjoyed the beer then, I saw it as more of a Wisconsin Belgian Red DARK. Much like his recent Old English Porter, Dan has shown that he isn’t a slave to style guideline when crafting an Unplugged-series beer.  He’s also not afraid of bringing favorites back from the dead.

Even though he states on each Unplugged bottle that each iteration is “a very limited edition and we make no promises to ever make this style again”, the precedent for resurrection was set with a second bottling of his phenomenal Apple Ale several years after its initial bottling.  Apparently his many fans made their love for Cherry Stout known to the degree that he relented and rebrewed this gem.  Many hundreds of beers wiser, I’m happy to revisit a beer that certainly got my attention as an up-and-coming appreciator of craft beer.

Beer: New Glarus Unplugged Cherry Stout

Style: Cherry Stout

Vitals: 6.6% abv, Eight Wisconsin malted barleys combined with Wisconsin Montmorency Cherries

Company line: “(Originally seventh in our series.) Due to popular demand we brought back Dan’s Gold Medal winning “Unplugged Cherry Stout.” This ale is aged in Oak barrels to promote the spontaneous fermentation. Eight Wisconsin malted barleys combined with Wisconsin Montmorency Cherries make for a complex and sublime taste experience that you may never find again. Discover why Dan is repeatedly recognized as the Best Brewmaster in America.”

My take (2): First off, my original review from February 23, 2006 (ahh, memories)

Pours a dark brownish-garnet, exceptionally translucent for a “Stout” with a short film of bubbles that fades with a hiss almost instantly. Nose is tart, tart cherries predominantly with some milk chocolate and a hint of maltiness. Tastes like their Belgian Red, a hint of oakiness, with some dark malt added for a bit of choco/caramel sweetness. Mouthfeel is rich and mouth-puckering. This is delicious as a fruit beer, but I really question its classification as a stout, it’s dark, but completely translucent and the roasted malts play a very small part in the overall taste profile of the beer. A more fitting name would be Wisconsin Belgian Red Dark. Overall, another unique creation which makes me so glad to live near such a solid and creative brewery like New Glarus.

This time around, the attractive caramel/khaki head has some staying power, leaving some spotty lacing in the glass.  Nose bursts, first with sweet cherry juice, then with a more tart wild twang and an underlying cocoa powder base.  Development on the palate closely follows that of the nose – sweet juicy cherry up front , twangy tartness that pinches the cheeks, and a smooth chocolate and roasted malt finish that reminds you this is a dark beer.  Body is velvety and obviously much lighter than your standard stout.  This is an impressively put-together beer from start to finish that hits all of Dan’s strengths as a brewer – fruit, oak, wild fermentation and above all else, impeccable balance.  Glad to have another shot at enjoying this one with a better-developed palate.  A real treat.

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