I hate summer.
I know, and I’m sorry. But there is nothing magical to me about sweating profusely while glaring sun beats down on my head. Give me fall or winter or if you must, spring. But nothing will change my mind about summer. My wife feels the same way.
Last October, shortly before she moved to Ohio so we could get married and combine our substantial personal libraries, Melinda took the ten minute ride to Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, the offbeat brewery responsible for iconic brews like Zombie Dust and Dark Lord. The brewpub itself has stepped away from their former metal cred by replacing the demons and naked ladies on their walls for American flags and still life paintings, but their beer is as daring as ever. Melinda picked up a bottle of Blot Out the Sun, an imperial stout, and we tucked it away for the next baking hot day when we wanted nothing more than to flip off the burning star in the daytime sky.
That day arrived last weekend. The temperature was 90 degrees, the heat index was over 100, and we felt it was time to Blot Out the fucking Sun.
We poured our bottled hatred for the daystar into snifters and settled in for an afternoon at the hightop table in our library room. It would have been nice to have a fresh bottle to compare with this year-old, but I doubt the time in the cellar has done all that much to change this big beer beyond mellowing off its edges. At 10.4% ABV and chock full of roast this beer could handle even longer with no problems at all.
The beer sits in the glass nearly straight black, though on the pour you’ll note hints of mahogany and rosewood, deep red and translucent. The head is short but dense, the color of the tight crema that sits on top of rich espresso. This is the opposite of the beer you think of for a hot summer day, but driven by heat-hate, we pressed on in our air-conditioned reading room.
Initially the nose points more to a strong black IPA than an imperial stout, with the roast staying somewhat subdued and the piney hops playing with a gentler malt presence. The hops have held up remarkably well over 12 months, and my guess is the time in storage has done the beer some good, bringing those hops down just enough to blend them with malt bill. While mostly piney, there is also an herbaceous quality to the hops here. When I smell any strongly hopped double stout I think of the fleshy stink of ruptured black walnut skins, a smell familiar to any kid in the Midwest who threw the little green orbs like grenades and couldn’t get the smell off his or her hands for days. In the context of a big stout like this, it’s a delightful smell. The malt is here for sure, but it starts out gentler than expected. Burnt caramel and bitter cocoa greet the nose, and the heavier roast only emerges over the course of the drink. The booze, initially concealed, continues to grow on the nose as well.
The flavor of the beer is as big as the nose. Bitter cocoa and toasted caramel were the biggest part of the malt punch here, with very faint coffee notes that might have been stronger when the beer was young. I picked up a hint of leather (and some complementary vanilla) that could have been a pleasant gift from the cellar, a confluence of other ingredients, or my imagination. Whatever the source, it fit well with our tall bookshelves of dusty tomes. The pine hop resin is strong but not overpowering, and the beer offers a smooth swallow for its size. The booze grows on the palette as the bottle is drained, but pleasantly so.
We sat with the bottle for hours while the sun slowly sank outside, conversation ranging from books to writing and, as the alcohol soaked in and did its gentle work, into the territory of childhood wounds and grown-up fears, the debris we pack away on shelves until time and the right company and a good bottle of beer bring them back out. The time, however unlikely, was a glaring hot day in July. The company was good, and the beer was right. For a few hours, we were able to Blot Out the Sun.