Cervesera del Montseny - Negra Stout
- ABV: 5.2%
- Serving Temperature: 50–59° F
- Suggested Glassware: Nonic, Tumbler, or Mug
Getting this one took some effort. Cerversera del Montseny’s Negra Stout (despite its rather attractive packaged appearance) is bottled by hand and sees very little distribution anywhere, let alone stateside. The brewery’s importer brought in a total of 35 cases last year (and a mere 12 kegs in 2014), with no further shipments planned in any considerable amount until 2015.
As the situation worked out, this is about as close as any beer gets to being a Rare Beer Club™ exclusive without actually, you know, being one. This Barcelona brewery’s dry stout is one of the best we’ve ever happened upon—a massively food-friendly dry stout that just begs for its style’s traditional pairing (freshly shucked oysters)—and it’s available basically nowhere else.
First off: give this one time to warm up to the recommended serving temperature. We found this to be true of a lot of the heavily roasted stout and porter releases we’ve been sampling as of late (especially a lot of the really potent Swedish porters crossing our path), and these dark beers tend to benefit greatly with time to warm up in one’s glass. You’ll notice a difference in even a few minutes: there’s a slight metallic quality that quickly fades—and after five minutes we found this to be an entirely different experience than that initial sip. Let this one breathe.
That patience is quickly rewarded. In the meanwhile, take a look at what we’re working with here: deep chocolate-brown color, quite dark despite its modest alcohol levels. We probably don’t need to debunk the common fallacy that dark beer = strong beer, as many of you have had pale imperial pilsners pushing 10% ABV and pitch-black session beers at this point. (It’s been a lot easier to debunk such beliefs as of late, and we’d point to something like the 4.2% Coffee Milk Stout recently released by Stone as a great example of easy-drinking dark beer.)
Fact is, Irish-style dry stouts generally tend to be reasonably light in alcohol, and those early sips (post-warming!) of Negra Stout offer up an immensely generous beer for being slightly over 5%. A medium-brown head caps the pour, with generous notes of bitter chocolate and roasted malts flying out of the glass. Hints of caramel and maybe even a touch of vanilla are present and serve to round out those darker, slightly charred malt qualities. The brewery uses wheat, oats, and rye in this beer in addition to barley, and one gets a bit of that spiciness and toasty wheat just from the nose. The wheat and oats also serve to amplify its head retention.
The aroma feels lush and entirely filled out—the bitterness of charred malts and coffee-like aromatics balanced perfectly by creamier notes approximating vanilla, almonds, and toffee.
It’s that first proper-temp sip that got us: the bright pop of prickly carbonation; its firm lines of both bitter, roasted malts and the style’s characteristic (and almost chalk-like) dry feel; and then, for sure, layers of milk and dark chocolate, coffee, cocoa powder, and other roastiness that seemed to basically unfurl forever. The overall effect is almost overly generous for what we generally expect from the style, arguably dipping its toes into full-on stout territory. There are those complementary creamy notes persisting into the flavor (hints of a robust nuttiness and very light vanilla-like sweetness), though the net effect remains dry and perfect for food.
While this is a reasonably robust release from Cervesera del Montseny, we’d not recommend putting it in the cellar for a substantial amount of time given the modest ABV levels, and we just don’t see this gaining a ton from the effects of oxidation. That said, it should still keep a pleasant overall profile for quite some time. Aside from being a perfect potential match to a briny, umami-laden oyster, we’re inclined to try it with scoops of rich vanilla-bean ice cream.
The Spanish microbrewery Cervesera del Montseny got its start back in 2007, the result of a group of friends getting together and wanting to brew authentically crafted beers that would prove worthy of representing Barcelona’s Montseny region. The brewery’s operations sit just beyond the borders of the sizable Parc Natural del Montseny, a UNESCO biosphere reserve that was named a national park back in the 80s. The region is home to high mountain peaks, expansive Mediterranean to sub-alpine wildlife, and some sweet megaliths (à la Stonehenge).
It’s really no wonder that the brewery focuses on the more ‘natural’ of brewing philosophies. Their original equipment—from a wood-banded mash tun to steam boiler—were purchased from Wolf Brewery, in the eastern English county of Norfolk. Cervesera del Montseny uses that country’s ale-focused brewing techniques throughout its operations, while still adhering to the German Reinheitsgebot’s mindset of core ingredients: local water, malted barleys and wheat, hops, and yeast. The Montseny beers are also unpasteurized and bottle conditioned.
The ever-vigilant importers at Shelton Brothers were among the first to recognize what was being produced at Cervesera del Montseny: expressive English-style beers crafted with great ingredients and a character typifying the growth of artisanal beer in Catalonia: “all brewed to the sound of Flamenco music reverberating through the small, spartan brewhouse in Seva.” Previously distributed only in southern Spain, we think they warrant a much wider audience.
I generally avoid talking directly about any early samples I get to try in this column—if only because the tasting notes tend to handle those pretty thoroughly without it. But I was really impressed with Cervesera del Montseny’s take on the dry stout style, and it got me thinking about other examples I’ve tried over the years that might have made a similar impression.
It basically made me realize that I couldn’t really remember any. So…I went digging through my notes, looking for things that had made an impact (at least temporarily). Bell’s Trumpeter Stout is one of our top examples on RateBeer, if pretty much draft-only at this point. A good friend from DC shared a bottle back in 2007, and it played out more complexly than most of them, with plenty of cocoa, roasted nuts, and chocolate. I picked up Porterhouse’s Wrasslers XXXX Stout from Ireland (with that crazy pull-tab cap) at a bottle shop in Nevada: offering milk chocolate, caramel roundness, and a touch of noble hops. As I think is often the case, it ends up being examples that provide a bit more than our stylistic expectations that stand out.
Russian River’s OVL Stout (unlike the above two) weighs in about 4.2% ABV and does very well expressing roast, coffee, and smoked meats in a modestly sized package. But: draft only.
If you’re looking for examples to try side-by-side with this month’s stout (beyond Guinness, which will seem even less generous by the comparison), a few good, well-distributed options include North Coast’s Old No. 38 Stout, Flying Dog Pearl Necklace, and Moylan’s Dragoon.
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