This isn’t the Hallowe’en beer review I expected to write. I really had my heart set on finding some bird-related pumpkin beer this week, but I struck out at the distributor (I know Elysian Brewing Company’s fall seasonal Night Owl Pumpkin Ale has a Great Horned Owl on the label, but I couldn’t find any). But I found instead something much spookier: The Poet, an oatmeal stout by Michigan’s New Holland Brewing, which features a stately raven – quite possibly of the saintly days of yore – alit upon a moonlit branch. The brewery is mum on any backstory behind this beer and its name, and even though this raven is perched upon a branch rather than a bust of Pallas, I’m going to go out on that tree limb and guess that The Poet is a tribute to Edgar Allan Poe and the avian star of what is undoubtedly the most famous – and most unsettling – of all bird poems. Let’s just call it a hunch.
In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for a great pumpkin beer to review before the season is over, but I think this holiday calls for something decidedly dark and sinister, and what could be more so than a beer inspired by Poe’s “Ghastly grim and ancient Raven”? Besides, a dark, sweet, chocolatey oatmeal stout complements the trick-or-treat loot a lot better than a beer with some squash in it any day.
The Poet is dark as ebony, nearly as black as Night’s Plutonian shore, if the nocturnal waters of Hades were capped with a tight, caramelly head of sepia foam – and who’s to say they aren’t? The Poet offers a deep, pleasingly sweet malt aroma that undeniably recalls Ovaltine and malted milk candy, with subtle hints of dark raisins and molasses providing some nuance. In contrast to many dryer stouts and porters, the roasted grain edges of The Poet have been smoothed over into a sweet, mellow blend of flavors redolent of dark toffee, mocha, and chocolate milk powder, with just enough earthy hop bitterness in the shadows to provide balance . Thanks to the heavy dose of oatmeal used in the mash, oatmeal stouts are known for a velvety smooth mouthfeel, and its role in The Poet is no exception, helping to round out its bittersweet cocoa finish.
“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe” – even a raven couldn’t say “Nevermore” to The Poet
This one can go with all kinds of food: shellfish, roasts, and barbecue are among the more obvious pairings for a stout like this on the savory side. I think The Poet would also match well with sharp English farmhouse cheeses like Cheddar, Cheshire, or Red Leicester (or a grilled cheese sandwich or macaroni and cheese made with these), and it’s probably potent enough to stand up to Stilton. I’d drink it with just about any chocolate dessert for a complement, or contrast with some vanilla ice cream – or just hedge my bets with an oatmeal stout milkshake or ice cream float. It’d also be great with oatmeal cookies, whether you prefer them plain or with chocolate or raisins. Halloween candy? Drink this with the Whoppers (or Maltesers). I can also attest from personal experience that The Poet pairs very well with the many fine readings of “The Raven” out there, though I’m particularly partial to the Vincent Price rendition – preferably heard upon a midnight dreary.
It’s impressive that New Holland Brewing has created such a refined oatmeal stout that cleverly recalls nostalgic childhood tastes without relying on gimmicky ingredients (not that those aren’t fun beers too). The Poet is a testament to the skill of its brewers and makes a perfectly comforting but sophisticated pint for All Hallows’ Eve.
Happy Hallowe’en drinking and good birding!
New Holland Brewing: The Poet
Four out of five feathers (excellent)
Birds and Booze News:
In Colorado, a nonprofit conservation organization, Running Rivers, has partnered with local breweries Three Barrel Brewing Company and Baere Brewing Company to support its cutthroat trout conservation projects.
Less admirable, perhaps, is a new offering from Dallas brewery Noble Rey Brewing Company. Called Eagle Tears, the limited edition product is a Gose-style sour beer intended as a jab at Philadelphia and its football fans. The rivalry and its spillover into the world of craft brewing is detailed in this story.
I am really enjoying this series, Tristan. Anyone can write about birds; it takes talent (and a good thesaurus) to write about beer, over and over again.
Thanks, Donna! I’ve been having a lot of fun writing these – even if it ain’t easy coming up with synonyms for “malty”. I’m reminded of a passage from Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher (one of the best beer writers out there) who describes the following difficulty in assessing stouts:
“I imagine we’ve all had the experience. We are offered a stout. A thick, beautiful head floats atop the inky juice, making an artful eyeful. We sniff, then snip, and the search for adjectives begins. ‘Hmmm. Roasty. And dark. And, um roasty. Did I mention it was roasty?”