Southern Tier Warlock Imperial Stout (2015) – Review

IMG_9630Who doesn’t love a good warlock? Ok, perhaps not everyone. Good, kindly, gray-haired wizards like Gandalf and Dumbledore are more the fashion these days, but let’s be honest, there’s something far more evocative about a raven-haired, perhaps ne’er-do-welling warlock. It’s more metal. It’s more Aleister Crowley, Black Sabbath, and that wild-eyed English professor I had in college.

Etymologically speaking, the word “warlock” originates from the Old Norse and proto-Germanic tinged Old English wærloga, meaning “liar,” “traitor”, and even “demon”. Wærloga is compounded from wær, meaning “faith,” “oath,” or “covenant,” and from leogan, meaning, roughly, “to lie.” Apparently, the lying and oath-breaking that was happening back then must have been so heinous that the word eventually picked up an association with the devil. In the early 1600’s, the Lowland Scots version of the word had the now familiar “ck” at the end and the meaning was more widely accepted as being the male equivalent of ye olde witch. Oh, sure, some will argue that “warlock” could also have come from the Norse word vardlokkur, which describes a certain type of Norse pagan (for lack of a better word) ward or guarding song which invokes spirits, but apparently this specific definition and lack of infiltrating usage makes that scenario highly unlikely. Sorry pagans.

Located at the southern end of Lake Chautauqua in Lakewood, NY, Southern Tier Brewing Company is a highly regarded craft brewery known for pushing boundaries a bit and being more experimental with its base ingredients. As part of their stout-y “Blackwater Series,” Warlock has the honor of being their Fall-released Imperial Stout. An interesting side note, Southern Tier and another highly regarded, though certainly more traditional craft brewery, Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing Company have very recently merged under the umbrella of a new parent company named Artisanal Brewing Ventures. While each brewery will continue to be operated independently, the merger will create some beneficial economy-of-scale and retail distribution advantages for both. Just another sign that craft brewing has become a seriously competitive and crowded industry where breweries need to think big and be proactive if they want to continue to grow and thrive.

The Appearance:  As far as imperial stouts go, this one is much less opaque and black, pouring a very dark chestnut-brown with a thinnish, quickly dissipating off-white head.

The Nose:  Again, as with the appearance, Warlock noses a little lighter and crisper than what I usually think of with imperial stouts. There’s lots of roasted, chocolatey malt, almost biscuit-y at times. The pumpkin is present, though far from overpowering. It’s more like roasted pumpkin than spicy pumpkin pie mix…though oddly there are nice notes of the crust from a pumpkin pie. Off-setting the sweeter side is a slight coffee-bitterness and rather subdued hops. There are spice notes of mexican chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon and a hint of clove.

The Palate:  Sweet and smooth, this handles the 10% alcohol very well. Lots more roasty-toasty malts, and continued earthy pumpkin. More chocolate tones as well – the Mexican variety and the nutty milk-chocolate candy bar variety. There’s an interesting bitterness here as well, black coffee-esque, but it’s hard to tell if it’s malt-driven or hop-driven. Some quiet baking spice notes of nutmeg and cinnamon at the end.

The Finish:  A sweetness on the lips and a stale coffee bitterness lingers along with those lightly spiced, earthy pumpkin tones.

Thoughts:  Lots of Black IPA character. In many ways, it seems a little thin for an Imperial Stout…but still ends up being rather filling and sweet towards the end. Very good use of pumpkin, not too spice heavy or cloyingly sweet. I personally enjoyed the earthy bitterness, but that aspect, too, helps this stray from the expected Imperial Stout profile. Despite its mild identity crisis, a very good beer, and for around $10, a no-brainer if you’re looking for something in the pumpkin category.

Southern Tier Warlock Imperial Stout (2015)

  • 10% ABV
  • Yeast: Ale
  • Malt: 2-row pale malt, Caramel malt, Black malt, Munich malt
  • Magnum hops, Sterling hops
  • Other stuff: pureed pumpkin, natural flavor(?!)
  • 22.5° Plato
  • Poured from a 22 oz. bottle into a snifter

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