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Tasting: Permanent Midnight BBA Stout w/ Coconut & Vanilla

Whenever I brew a long-term project beer, whether it be barrel-aged, sour, or both, I post a follow-up tasting rather than integrating it into the brew log. This is one of those posts.

It’s been over a year since I brewed this beer, and more than six months since I took it out of the first-use bourbon barrel that it aged in. I’ve had it kegged up and mostly sitting in my garage fridge since it finished its week-long rest on two pounds of toasted coconut and three vanilla beans, and it’s continued to drink well. The booziness has evened out over time, as you’d expect, and—surprisingly—the coconut hasn’t really dropped off.

On a recent holiday trip to Santa Fe, NM, I took a couple bombers to share with friends at Rowley Farmhouse Ales. (GABF Small Brewery and Small Brewpub of the Year! Buy their beer! Go visit!) After trying it, my buddy Tyler King (brewery investor, part-time brewer, and genuine beer nerd) told me it’s better than 90% of the commercial imperial stouts he’s tried, and urged me to enter it in this year’s NHC.

Damn, that felt good.

The details

  • OG: 1.121
  • FG: 1.037
  • ABV: 13.3% (probably a conservative estimate, given the spirit in the barrel and evaporation over time)
  • IBU: 60
  • Adjuncts: 2 lb. toasted coconut flakes + 3 Madagascar vanilla beans
  • Aging: 5 months in a 5 gallon, first-use bourbon barrel + 1 week in keg on adjuncts + 6 months in serving keg

How’s it taste?

Well, I agree with Tyler. This beer is delicious. It’s easily the best I’ve ever made.

Sure, big beers—especially dark beers—cover up flaws better than light beers. The common wisdom is that a good pilsner is harder to make than a good stout. In general, I agree. But this beer isn’t hiding anything.

Appearance: Jet black with the slightest hint of ruby at the edges. A khaki head that quickly reduces to light lacing around the edges. Noticeable legs when you swirl the glass, thanks to the 13.3% ABV.

Aroma: Dark chocolate, coconut, spice, and the slightest hint of ethanol (way less than six months ago). The barrel comes through, but it’s in balance with the adjuncts. Definitely not a hugely barrel-forward beer, despite having rested in a small, first-use bourbon barrel for perhaps a bit too long. No discernible yeast character, just a ton of dessert.

Taste: I can’t describe it as anything but a liquid Mounds bar. Intense dark chocolate, with the 60 IBUs boosting the impression of bittersweet/baker’s cocoa. The coconut is integrated into the overall flavor in such a way that if I didn’t tell some tasters it had coconut in it, I’m sure they might not pick it out. Still, once you know it’s there, you can’t help but taste it. (And those with more discerning palates will pick it up right away.) The vanilla is there, too, but with only three beans in a five-gallon batch, it’s not overwhelming. Again, really well-integrated. Same for the barrel, which comes through more as bourbon spice than oak. Altogether, it’s a fucking delicious melange.

Mouthfeel: This beer didn’t finish as high as a lot of current pastry stouts. I had Firestone Walker’s Maple Parabola the same day we tasted this beer at Rowley; it finished at 1.055, while this one finished at 1.037, and the difference in thickness was noticeable. Overall, though, I think I prefer this level of thickness and sweetness more. There’s no way I could drink more than 4 ounces of Maple Parabola, delicious as it is, but I could house maybe 8 ounces of Permanent Midnight in a sitting. I know a lot of people think you should carb big stouts lower, but my experience is that big, thick beers like this one have less perceived carb at the same PSI than thinner, smaller beers. I carbed it to 2.5 vols, just like everything else in my keezer, and it feels appropriate.