Some beers defy categorization. Some breweries make their entire reputations off brewing beers that cannot be adequately classified according to accepted popular and historic styles. A few of these beers are so popular, they have new styles defined around them.
Likewise, the consumer base for craft beer is also divided. Many revel in the new and different, those bold and experimental beers that stray far from the published stylistic guidelines, and just as many dislike changing the time-tested, traditional flavors of established beer styles. And then, sometimes, it’s all about a marketing game.
North Texas has had some success with our local craft brewers pushing the limits of accepted beer styles. Peticolas’ Velvet Hammer is an excellent beer but far too strong for the standard red ale guidelines, no matter what source you use. The very popular Temptress from Lakewood Brewing isn’t a milk stout but actually a strong, sweet porter, and Revolver Brewing’s Bock no longer says “bock” on the label. Deep Ellum Brewing’s Double Brown Stout isn’t even an ale — it is a Baltic porter, which is a lager style of beer.
Of course, none of this matters if the public likes the taste and these beers continue to sell. And as long as they sell, expect brewers to keep pushing brewing (marketing?) boundaries, just as Texas Ale Project has with the second edition of their annual beer named The Caucasian, released last week.
Named for Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski and his preferred cocktail, The Caucasian is being marketed as a “White Russian imperial stout.” This name is at the same time inadequate and probably the best description of this seasonal beer, as it has and yet does not have the qualities of its named style. I’ve been trying to determine what best to call it, how best to categorize it, but still it resists.
The Caucasian is a 9% ABV beer brewed with pale malts and pounds and pounds of Madagascar vanilla beans. It is blended with cold-brewed coffee from Full City Rooster coffee roasters in Dallas, and then finished with some age on American oak. The intent is to make a “white” beer reminiscent of a full Russian imperial stout without being, well, dark and roasty.
I can’t say T.A.P. succeeded in brewing a blonde RIS but that does not mean they failed, nor that this is a bad beer. To the contrary, it is a full-bodied and enjoyable beer brimming with toasty pale malt flavors and a strong but not off-putting vanilla nature. It certainly has elements to connect it to an RIS: the alcoholic strength, flavors of mild coffee and cocoa, and a surprising bitterness (but not hoppy) with 75 IBUs. A small lactic addition enhances the vanilla, which becomes more pronounced as it warms and draws out that faint woody element. At no point did flavors become overwhelming, and never was there a hint of alcoholic heat.
How should one best classify this beer style? A strong pale ale with vanilla? A light, oak-aged coffee ale? Does it even matter? Just as long as you enjoy sipping the beer on a cold winter’s night.
Availability: A winter seasonal, on tap at popular craft beer retailers around Dallas for now. Word is that T.A.P. will have their own in-house canning line soon.