Iron Horse Brewery: Cozy Sweater

A guest blog post by Bill Fishburn. You can follow Bill on Twitter @rwfishbu1.

Now that I’m through the busy-ness of October (studying for the Project Manager Professional exam), November (taking the PMP exam), and most of December (Happy Merry Kwanzukkahmas Festivus), I’m going to attempt to post a couple times a month in addition to my full-length, feature, brewer/brewery/beer formats, which I’ll keep providing about once a month. My purpose isn’t changing; I still want to educate people about craftbeer and beer appreciation from a Beer Judge Certification Program perspective, but my short reviews will be a little more succinct and focus on the beer.

The Beer: Iron Horse Brewery’s Cozy Sweater

Cozy Sweater is a seasonal ale from Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg, WA. The menu in their taproom suggests that they change it up every year, and this year’s is a Vanilla Milk Stout. Milk Stouts are now referred to in the style guidelines as “Sweet Stouts”, and the Vanilla is an extra kick provided by the brewer. From the brewery, we get the following description:

Cozy Sweater

Here we’ve taken a dark and chocolatey beer foundation and added a few
twists. The addition of lactose has the benefit of adding a smooth and round
mouthfeel, plus a touch of sweetness. On top of what could already be considered
a revelation in a bottle, we decided to throw in a hint of vanilla, because who
doesn’t appreciate overdoing it? This beer rolls off the line just waiting to
complete your winter day like nothing other than a sweater from your Aunt
Milly could.

The Review

Appearance: This beer pours with a thick, tan head, foreshadowing the good things to come. It is a very dark brown beer–distinctly brown, not black–and quite opaque. The head persists for several moments before resolving to a nice lacing that chases the beer down the side of the glass, reminiscent of frost around your home’s window panes, ringing the edges, and providing a reminder of what used to be in your glass.

Aroma: Taking a deep whiff of the beer provides distinct scents of coffee and roasted grains. When I say coffee, imagine a freshly poured, high-quality drip coffee from a darker roast; this is the first and most prevalent note to grab your senses and take hold. The pleasant roastiness of what is likely black patent malt makes the second assault on your olfactory passages. Those two dominating scents then give way to a very chocolaty aroma, like you’d get from a rich, dark chocolate bar fresh from the chocolatier. If that weren’t enough, the finishing aroma provides a touch of vanilla followed by the barest hint of earthy hops. There are no fruity esters or hints of alcohol present, as should be the case for a Milk Stout.

Flavor: Like the aroma, the first flavor out of the chute is coffee.  It matches the aroma–a smooth dark roast. However, the chocolate flavor beats its way to your palate before the grains’ roastiness, and then you get the vanilla. This is an almost artistic presentation of the vanilla in this beer. It is not overdone, and it makes your palate aware of its presence in a subtle and soothing way. I imagine a room full of dancers representing the flavors, who all clear the floor when Lady Vanilla makes her entrance; she’s dressed in a classic, understated gown, but completely steals the show. Because every grand entrance has to be followed by an anti-climactic buzz from the attending crowd, we can’t forget the hops in this beer. They trail vanilla quietly, providing just enough bitterness to offset some of the initial sweet clamorings. The beer finishes dryly, likely due to the roasted grain and low-ish final gravity.

Mouthfeel: Despite the darkness of this beer, and the mix of coffee and chocolate flavors, it has only a medium body. However, that body remains present on the palate like a favorite cozy sweater remains in your closet. (Hmmm, coincidence?)

Overall: The star of this beer’s show is the flavors. Sure, appearance and aroma provide some great supporting performances, but taking a swig of this beer and letting it wash over your entire palate, exhaling through the swallow, and sensing its impact on your tongue, cheek and gums–man! This a great stout with some incredible coffee and roasted flavors that should please most any stout lover. The subtle vanilla flavors and aromas are artfully pleasant bonuses, and will be a big reason I go in search of more. Combining the minimalist 4.5% alcohol by volume with the palate pleasantries makes for a very enjoyable and sessionable beer. If you see these in your local bottle shop, grab them and start planning your “vertical” tasting for 2013.

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