….You never know what you are going to get….
Ugh. The low hanging fruit was just too tempting. I know Starr Hill set us up for that one, but I don’t really care. What I do care about is great brews. And now that winter is finally here, it was time to break open their most recent foray into varietals.
It seems that most breweries put together 2 types of mixed packs. The first is the one that is most common to everyone: 4-6 different types of beers packaged as a series that shows off the range per season. It is a great way to dive into a repertoire of a brewery you may have overlooked, and most times they throw in a tasty surprise. Some breweries do collaboration series with other breweries to showcase a wide variety flavors. All of this is great and can be enjoyed by everyone.
What I love is the second type of mixed packs: theme and variations. I’ve noticed a few breweries do these with some frequency, and it is truly a next level way of showcasing talent. In most examples, you have 4-6 different beers, but 1 is a base beer of some variety, and the other 3-5 are variants of the first one. This could included added hops or malts, or straight up adjunct material. This showcases 2 different skills. First is to balance the base beer to perfection, second is to add to that beer to not only compliment, but accentuate it.
This weekend I FINALLY got to have some time to sit down and hit all 4 of them at the same time. Usually we put up the ‘5 step’ review, but this time I’m gonna talk about them in the order I had them and what made each one unique.
Box Of Chocolates, Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, VA)
Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout (DCS)
Double Bass Mocha Double Chocolate Stout (MDCS)
Double Bass Chipotle Double Chocolate Stout (CDCS)
Double Bass Peppermint Double Chocolate Stout (PDCS)
Stout, ABV: 7.8%
Double Chocolate Stout: I’m actually giddy going through this process. I dig getting to experience this type of tasting, whether it is at a brewery, or in the comfort of my computer chair. Yes folks, this taste test was conducted in front of my computer with my headset on listening to Spotify watching college basketball. It is a relaxing spot and it sets a mellow mood, plus I always have pen and paper sitting nearby. I had carried a standard pint glass upstairs after serious deliberation. We do not judge based on glassware on this site, but will make recommendations. Tulips work very well here as while the ABV is very respectable, sugar esters are higher warranting the possible short round. In the end, I wanted the larger glass as I wanted it to warm up a little towards the end. Some people think that because stouts are a winter beer that you can freeze the stuffing out of it, but letting it warm up a little will release a lot more flavor, and in a variety pack, that’s kinda the point. And the only no-brainer of the order of operation was where to start. The DCS is a medium-heavy to heavy, sackcloth black stout that had a brownish head that sits freshly poured about 1-2 fingers. Chocolate and heavy roasted malts in the nose, with the chocolate starting middle/back of the tastebuds, but moving forward as it warmed up (and you got deeper in the glass). It is not a mouth reset on this one as while the slight bitterness of the stout tries and take over, the sugars win in the end, pronouncing and compounding the flavors (more on that later). By itself, it is a great stout that has a great balance of chocolate and sweet/bitterness to it. A great base like this helps every other beer in this series.
Mocha Double Chocolate Stout: Now into the varietals. Know that the other 2 had a chance of blowing up my taste buds, I stuck with a safe Mocha for Round 2. (***Editor’s note: There were multiple clean glasses used and the beer was all kept at closely the same initial temp. Unless noted presentation and appearance was the same for all four.***) [Actual Editor’s Note: I was not involved in Hamilton’s shenanigans here!] The mocha was subtle both on the nose and taste, a little more subtle than I had envisioned going into it, even after a 2nd taste. In the effort to jump start it, I left it to warm up longer than I usually would, which slightly increased the mocha. A second taste tester was brought in for this (and one more). The chocolate was very easy to pick up, the mocha was slight. Again, great DCS base, and the mocha does not deter from that, but could have been a little more pronounced.
Chipotle Double Chocolate Stout: Spicy and Minty are 2 of the 3 ‘stick with you’ of the craft beer world, only surpassed by Smokey, which ends your tasting day before it starts. If I would have remembered what a ‘chipotle’ was to begin with, I would have saved this for the end. But I confused that with Cayenne and moved it into 3rd. But I should have a defense. Cayenne pepper is a very common adjunct in stouts and dark beer, and it shows up in chocolate/hot chocolate all the time. It is not an uncommon thing. But this is chipotle, and it is a whole ‘nother beast. And this was my favorite. There was heat that snuck up on you in the middle-late towards the end, and even past the end. I knew every receptor from my tongue to my esophagus was lit up by a warm heat. But it was the combined chili and smokey flavors that made this beer. I can’t remember the last time I had anything that resembles this. I pulled out notes. We have an Excel sheet of reviews and I have a log of Untappd, but I couldn’t pull from prior knowledge to get this one started. The spice, smoke, and pepper were on point. The savory was so good, my mouth is watering writing this down. It is unique and outstanding.
Peppermint Double Chocolate Stout: How do you follow that beer? Like I said, I should have ended on that one, and I would have as well, if it hadn’t been for the worst game of mental Scattergories ever. But alas, mint and especially mint in beer is one of those that sticks around, as the oils like to not get washed away by the beer and bind with the sugars to cram into every crevice of your mouth. Here’s the rub (pun intended) with peppermint: it’s finicky. What we have established as ‘mint’ is very straight forward in culinary society and you are just worrying about balance. Peppermint needs both quantity, quality, and a means of transportation (usually sugars), all balanced to get the desired result. Throw 1 of them off and you can get some unintended flavors. Try a bunch of candy canes from different manufacturers. Some are great, some are meh, and some are nope. I got a great peppermint aroma right off the bat, exactly what I was looking for. I got varied level of peppermint and experiences with each sip. I even brought back in the second tester, and generally got the same reaction. I loved the thought and timing behind the peppermint, it just was not my favorite of the bunch.
Overall: Let me say that this was one of my highlights since coming back from Oktoberfest. To go down the line and do a tasting like this was great. This entire Box of Chocolates is legit, and if you are looking for some variety to your stouts, grab this. If not for the original double bass, get it for the Chipotle. I’m a sucker for really, really good variants, and it would be remiss of me to keep the Chipotle Double Chocolate Stout out of the 9+ range.
Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout (DCS): 8.6
Double Bass Mocha Double Chocolate Stout (MDCS): 8.7
Double Bass Chipotle Double Chocolate Stout (CDCS): 9.4
Double Bass Peppermint Double Chocolate Stout (PDCS): 8.4