Yes, that’s right – not just a tasting, but a taste test.
You see, we managed (through what I expect was a clerical error of some sort…) to get hold of not one but TWO bottles of the Ghost 1 edition of Adroit Theory/Mud Hound Brewing collaboration B/A/Y/S Imperial Stout. We were also privileged to be among the few to receive a bottle of Ghost 3 of the same beer. Since we’d been saving the Ghost 1, what better time to drink it than to compare to the 3 and see what”s changed?*
Well, first off, the obvious. The bottles are different, the label is different and it’s corked and caged instead of capped. All in all a better presentation, which does actually improve flavor (psychology. it works, b****s). On top of that, we know from various means that the Ghost 3 was fermented on cherries and hazelnuts in whiskey barrels. This should be a pretty significant change, then. We shall see just how significant in a few moments.
Even on the pour the differences are immediately apparent. The Ghost 1 has an immediate foam-up which drops off into continuous streams of bubbles from nucleation points in the glass, most closely compared to a champagne.
On the other hand the Ghost 3’s carbonation approximates what you’d see after pouring a soda into a glass. Neither one has significant head retention, though Ghost 1 more than 3. There’s almost no difference in the color, but then with a name like “Black As Your Soul”, how many shades of variance would you really expect?**
On to the smell test! Well, they smell great.
Oh… you wanted more than that! Starting again with the Ghost 1, we got an immediate hit of roasted malts and an impression of sweetness – no real surprise for an Imperial Stout.
The Ghost 3 was more complex, showing off the cherry aroma to good effect, but more upfront was the chocolate and coffee combination.
Flavor-wise we found the Ghost 1 to be very like a traditional Imperial Stout. The coffee that was missing from the aroma was here on the front end. Overall it was full of roasted malt flavors, with a bitterness on the backend. The high carbonation lent it a sharpness we weren’t anticipating but which caused it to drink faster than anticipated.
The Ghost 3 by contrast had strong flavors of coffee, cherries, chocolate and hazelnut throughout, much more complex in flavor but without as much variation across the experience. The chocolate/hazelnut led me to describe it almost as “nutella beer” – not a bad thing, in my mind. The lower carbonation may have contributed to the overall creamy, rich mouth-feel. This is not a beer I would be able to have more than one of in an evening. If you watch for it you can also pull out the whiskey notes from the barrel aging. So often barrel-aged beer is overwhelmed by the liquor left in the barrels and we were happy that that was not the case here.
Overall, we thought that the Ghost 1 was much more in the vein of making a strong entry into the style, perhaps getting your feet set firmly before following through with the flurry of punches we anticipate seeing come out of Adroit Theory in the near future. This beer will likely age very well, and should we get our hands on more we will surely be putting it away for a special occasion or two. That said, we also felt the need to describe this as a “campfire-drinkin’ beer”, perfect as a winter warmer to keep the chill away.
Ghost 3 is much more playful and more experimental. To return to the martial-arts metaphor, this is a quick, experimental kick towards the face to test if your opponent is really paying attention. Let me warn you – pay attention!
* Please note – there are two of us drinking here, and we are professional beer drinkers. Of a sort. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the average individual drinking two of these imperial stouts back-to-back
** No, really. We’re not doing “fifty shades of grey” jokes on this blog. I said NO.