Craft Beer Corner
Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout
by Cory Byrom
(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.)
After college, when I first started discovering the world of beer outside of $2.99 six-packs of Hamm's and five-dollar pitchers of PBR, stouts were my first love. Pitch-black and viscous, they were such a far cry from the cheap, thin, corn-heavy beers I was used to. I was drawn to the roasty flavor, and how often you'd find more creative ingredients, like coffee and chocolate. Stouts felt like an indulgence, even though, calorically speaking, Guinness, the most popular stout in the world, is actually lighter than the vast majority of craft beers. All things considered, I've probably had more varieties of stout than any other beer style.
Bell's Brewery from Kalamazoo, Michigan has four stouts in their lineup, so naturally I've spent a lot of time with a glass of Bell's beer in front of me. Of those four, Kalamazoo Stout is the only one in their year-round lineup. The other three are sprinkled throughout their seasonal and specialty releases, and offer variations that play up the various strengths of the stout, be it with the addition of cherries, higher alcohol content, or pushing the creamy texture to its extreme. They're all tasty. But Kalamazoo Stout is their most straightforward, a stout-drinker's stout, but for one unique ingredient that, unfortunately, could be a deal breaker for some. It's a 6% ABV stout, full of roasted malt, light on the hops, and with just a hint of licorice. Unless you really hate licorice, though, I beg you not to let that scare you off.
It pours about as black as any stout I've seen. Light doesn't even make a dent in this one. I was disappointed to see almost no head, which is common with high-abv stouts, but at 6%, this one would really benefit from a nice dense head on top. No such luck, though the carbonation level isn't as light as I'd expected after pouring. Until a few bubbles gathered at the end of the pour, I was worried I had a bad bottle. But sipping revealed just enough carbonation to carry the flavors over my tongue.
The aroma hits all the stout high points. The roasted grain is front and center, with hints of coffee and chocolate, and that brewer's licorice rounding out the end. The flavor spins it around, with the licorice up front, but quickly spreading to the others. There are hints of cola in there as well, only reinforced by the dark color. It goes down smooth and finishes dry, so even though the licorice is certainly there, you don't get any candy overtones. There's nothing cloying or syrupy about this one.
Bell's Kalamazoo Stout is surprisingly straightforward given the licorice addition. Many people are going to see that on the label and think twice, but even though licorice is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it flavor, its use here is subtle enough that stout fans should approach with an open mind. While not an exceptional stout, Kalamazoo knows its strengths and delivers what a lot of stout drinkers like myself are looking for: familiar flavors with a touch of the unique. - B -
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(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.)