25 Beers of Christmas: #5

Bell’s Black Note Stout

Imperial Stout

11.4% ABV

Bell’s Brewery Inc. – Kalamazoo, Michigan


Thanks to the influence of Bourbon County Stout and many barrel-aged imperial stouts since that one, including the beer we’re about to discuss, there is no shortage (I’d call it a gluttony, but why talk about sin the week of Christmas?) of massive, bourbon barrel-aged, imperials out there to choose from.  Bell’s Black Note Stout has been around for about a decade, and it’s a testament to its quality that it continues to stand out amongst the field.  As we begin the final countdown to Christmas Day, I’m pleased to discuss in further detail one of the beers I plan to open this week, after a couple years in the cellar: Again, today’s beer is Bell’s Brewery’s barrel-aged beauty, Black Note Stout.

Black Note is a phenomenal, balanced, complex barrel-aged stout.  My gold standard is the above-discussed Bourbon County Stout, and the malt and hops are much more balanced with the alcohol here than with BCS—which is not to say I like Black Note better, just that it is more balanced.  It pours jet black, with a thin brown head that disappears immediately, leaving a glass full of black motor oil.  There’s tons of vanilla, chocolate, and mild oak on the nose, along with some boozy warmth.  The flavor is similar, with vanilla, chocolate malt (the grain, not the dessert), hints of coffee/espresso, and some moderate burnt flavors (roasted malts).  Caramelization, bourbon, and molasses, all well balanced.  Despite everything going on, Black Note is milky, silky, very sweet, with a ton of bitterness and roasted/burnt notes on the finish.  An exhilarating drinking experience.

To make sure you get to smell and taste and see (and hear?) everything going on with this beer, be sure and pour it at 50-55 degrees into a snifter or goblet, something with an inward curve at the top of the glass to hold those aromas in.  Like our other imperial stouts, this one needs a rich chocolate dessert to match up with.  If that dessert has a coffee or vanilla element to it, even better.  You know those Oreo truffles that are basically Oreos and cream cheese rolled in ball and dipped in chocolate bark?  Those would be money here.

Black Note Stout can be somewhat difficult to get your hands on if you don’t know when to look for it; I lucked into it at a store that tends to hold bottles back and discreetly put them on the shelf a few months after the initial release.  From what I can tell Bell’s is available in about 25 states, mostly east of the Mississippi (MN, IA, MO, ND, AZ, and CA not withstanding), though I did see officially last week that they will be expanding into Louisiana, Mississippi, and most importantly ARKANSAS within the next year.

Bell’s makes so many other great beers that it will be difficult to list them here.  Two Hearted, their IPA, is very highly regarded, as is their Double IPA Hopslam, and their summer American Pale Wheat Ale, Oberon.  All of their stouts are fantastic, including Expedition, Kalamazoo, Special Double Cream, and Java Stout.  Bell’s Oarsman, a Berliner Weisse, is also excellent.  There are many more that are worth a taste, so basically if you see a beer with Bell’s name on it, give it a whirl.

The part of the concert where we play the biggest hits has officially started, so stay turned for #4 through #1 in the next few days!

JAB – 12/21/15