Food & Dining
Review: Red Brick Vanilla Gorilla
(Editor’s note: Cory Byrom, local craft beer enthusiast and home brewer from Peachtree City, shares his opinions on craft beer from all over the world.)
Red Brick's Vanilla Gorilla has popped up several times over the last few years, and with each iteration it's gone through a few changes.
Initially it was simply their regular porter with Madagascar vanilla beans added, but with each new batch they've tinkered with the recipe, working toward a more unique balance of flavors. The abv has gone up or down a little, smoked malt was added or taken away, heck, even the vanilla beans got smoked over at Fox Bros barbecue. The result is that this current incarnation is a primate unto itself, pretty far removed from its humble beginnings.
It's heavier and denser than your typical porter, closer to an imperial stout in terms of mouthfeel and color, with but a thin head across the top of the glass. I find traditional porters to be a little thin for the roastiness of the malt, but, thankfully, as Red Brick pushed the abv up on the Vanilla Gorilla, they pushed the viscosity up, too. Honestly, once you get up into the imperial range, it gets harder and harder to differentiate between a stout and a porter, and when you're throwing in vanilla, smoke, and extra hops into the mix, it's almost a wash. But they're calling it a porter, and they're the boss of their beers, so a porter it is.
As you raise the glass to your mouth, the first thing you're going to notice is the smokiness in the nose. Though not specifically billed as a smoked porter this time around (it has been in the past), make no mistake that the Vanilla Gorilla is exactly that. The aroma is smoke up front, mingling with some dark chocolate, whiskey barrel, and roast malt in the middle. Vanilla is the last thing you'll notice, but given how easy it is for vanilla to dominate a brew, that's A-OK with me. Obviously smoke can do that too, and once you start sipping Vanilla Gorilla, it's clear that it's the main flavor adjunct here. I guess Smoky Gorilla doesn't have the same ring to it.
The flavor profile is right in line with the aroma. Smoke, dark chocolate, and coffee accentuate the roastiness of the malt very well, while the vanilla works in the background to smooth it all out and add some sweetness. As it warms, the smoke comes out even more, which hardcore fans of smoked beers may appreciate, but I found it too dominating after a while. But with all of that going on, the high abv is hidden remarkably well. I like a little booziness in strong beers, and it's there in the Vanilla Gorilla, but in a way that works with the profile, never overpowering it.
Overall, Red Brick Vanilla Gorilla is a solid imperial porter. If you're looking for a dessert beer that's not overly sweet, this one is for you. I found the smokiness to be a little palate-exhausting after a glass or two, but if you enjoy it on draft like I did, it's easy enough to switch it up when you need to. If smoky, chocolatey beers are your thing, be sure to grab this one soon. It's only available during the fall, and the rumor is it's being retired after this batch is exhausted. B+
***Cory Byrom is a stay-at-home dad to three young kids. He likes loud music and strong drinks, and in his spare time he enjoys listening to other people's stories. He hosts a monthly storytelling show in Atlanta called The Iceberg.***