Humboldt Brewing Company - 2015 Black Xantus
- ABV: 11%
- Bottle Size: 22-oz
- Serving Temperature: 52–59° F
- Suggested Glassware: Snifter, Tulip or Pinot Glass
The “Imperial Stout” designation on the front label doesn’t fully do this one justice, as Black Xantus (in the few instances we’ve been able to find bottles) is a massively detailed and well-developed beer with any number of special tricks up its sleeve. This one’s in fact an imperial java stout, brewed with a fair-trade, organic coffee sourced from Joebella Coffee Roasters in the nearby town of Atascadero, and it then gets barrel-aged for six months in a combination of bourbon, wine and Firestone Union barrels. It’s unlike anything else we’ve had.
Give this one time to properly warm up, as some initial candy-like notes broaden to a much more complex profile with just a little bit of time out of the fridge. This pours a viscous and dense chocolate-brown color, almost like molten caramel, with just a bit of light coming in at the edges. A modestly sized, medium-brown foam caps things. The immensity of this beer is apparent with that very first pour, as generous notes of dried fruits, roasted coffee, and black licorice spill out. There’s a lot of territory here that extends well beyond what you’d expect in most traditional imperial stouts, with generous caramelization and fruitiness throughout. The barrel impact adds intriguing secondary notes: vinous character, plus subtle hints of whiskey. The coffee addition is properly integrated and never dominates. Everything plays out clearly.
The carbonation here stays properly dialed back, allowing this massive 11% beer to unfold in a smooth, satisfying fashion: leading with ripe dark fruit and brown sugar and loads of nicely developed oxidative qualities from its time spent in an assortment of barrels. There’s just an immense amount of space inhabited here: layers of milk chocolate and licorice and roastiness from an assortment of specialty malts; the barrel contributions are subtle and numerous and ranging from red-wine character to spicy char plus subtle underpinnings of tannic structure. We found so many different angles of this beer appealing. Its interwoven coffee addition and complex barrel history serve as excellent support for an immensively flavorful, fun, big stout.
We managed to snag a vintage run of this beer for our Rare Beer Club members, right about where we find Black Xantus to hit its full stride as a beer developing over time. Between the six months of barrel aging plus some time in the bottle, we think this is drinking beautifully right now, but that 11% ABV suggests this will still have a little more life to it in one’s cellar. Just watch the oxidation. The caramelization and dark fruits have us thinking pork. Or duck.
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