The dark side of the moon
A Review of Outblack (Stillwater / De Struise) by Stillwater Artisanal Ales
Posted on 4/8/2013 by Chops
Sometimes a beer will come along that seems to speak to you personally. It could have a name that conjures a cherished memory. It could utilize a special ingredient that you adore. I recently had one such experience when I came across the Outblack Belgian Strong Ale, a collaboration brew between Stillwater Artisanal Ales and De Struise Brouwers out of Belgium. This beer's label features the full spectrum of moon phases, which is where the personal touch comes in. I have an obsession with astronomy and astrophysics, so to see this on a beer label was damn near kismet in my eyes. I simply had to have it even before I knew what it was. I was delighted to find Stillwater on the label, a very talented gypsy brewer out of Baltimore. On the flip side, this was my first experience with De Struise Brouwers, so my fingers were crossed.

To properly prepare for this unique nectar, it helps to get a back story. Per Stillwater: ''This Belgian Strong Ale was married to a still young but powerful style, the Black IPA. You'll discover a smooth chocolate like strong ale together with the high & bitter hop schedule of an IPA, and you get a great result.'' Wow, a Belgian Black IPA hybrid. Let that crazy concoction sink in for a moment. This brew could zigzag in any direction. Might be a fantastic creation. Might be an OMG WTF moment. Let's roll the dice and get started.

In the glass, this beer is stark black and comes with plenty of yeasty sediment. Resting on top is a creamy tan head that has really good retention. On the nose, I was greeted with a complex array of style traits. In no particular order, I found mint leaves, a coffee-like roast, tangy citrus, Belgian bread, rye, spices, caramel, and various dark fruits. There is also a big alcohol presence where the burn neutralizes any hop bitterness. This is one of those rare aromas that is confusing and disorienting, yet it remains enticing and inviting. I couldn't wait to dive in for that first sip to see how all those notes match up.

Wow, this beer tastes exactly as advertised. I'll be damned if this isn't a Belgian Black IPA. Much to my surprise, the individual style traits blend very well. Although, the specific styles do carry weight on the flavor train. There is a heavy Belgian influence to start with a smooth and savory mouthfeel. The Black IPA kicks in hard on the finish, resulting in a bitter roasted aftertaste that lingers for a very long time. The middle ground is where everything blends. The result is a sticky mouthfeel with lots of dark fruity sweetness, doughy Belgian breads, caramel and spice notes. The alcohol nip is very well hidden, so drinker beware. The beer is amazingly balanced despite the smorgasbord of flavor swings, which I found to be quite remarkable.

Overall, the Outblack Belgian Strong Ale is a complex delight. Stillwater Artisanal Ales and De Struise Brouwers have managed to create a delicious hybrid unlike anything I have ever tasted before. I hesitate to recommend it to any specific camp because it has a very unique appeal. If you like big Belgian beers and have an adventurous palate, then you will most certainly adore this brew. If you are like me and also share an appreciation for astronomy, then this beer is a no-brainer. I can just picture myself in an open field with a telescope staring at a clear night sky with a snifter of Outblack in my hand and Dark Side of the Moon playing in the background. For this beer fan, life doesn't get much better than that.

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Outblack (Stillwater / De Struise) by Stillwater Artisanal Ales
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