Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jolly Pumpkin - Madrugada Obscura (Dark Dawn) Stout Review

Brewery: Jolly Pumpkin (MI)
Style: Sour Beer / Imperial Stout
ABV: 8.1%
Grade: A

Thank you, Jolly Pumpkin, for applying a simple sticker to all your beers indicating the date they were bottled. Seriously. Many beer styles don't really improve with age, so I can sort of understand why other breweries neglect to do this. But, especially in this case, it's nice to know that I'm drinking my Madrugada Obscura stout almost exactly a year from the date it was bottled. See, Jolly Pumpkin's beers change more over time than almost any other brewery I've had (mostly due to their aging and bottling process — they bottle their sour beers much earlier than most). What that generally means is Jolly Pumpkin's beers will be relatively clean for a few months after bottling, which a mild hint of sourness, and grow significantly more sour over time. After a year of aging in the bottle, you can expect a fairly sour beer.

Unfortunately, that also means this is a really hard beer to review — I need to pick up a fresh bottle and compare it, because it's hard to say how my experience with this beer might compare to your average consumer's, picking it up just a month or two after it hits the shelves. Radically different, I'd assume, and much more stout-y in the Average Consumer's case. After a year, there's not a whole ton of stout left. The initial taste is a very earnest sourness, with the full range of Brett-y funk, lactic dryness and tongue-puckering bite. Not as intense as other sours — but over a stout base, in a beer that looks the part of something much richer and sweet, the sourness has the element of surprise.

Then, your tongue adjusts. There's still some roasted malt and chocolate in the aroma, though it doesn't come again until the end of its stay in your mouth, where it lingers through the aftertaste. Mostly, the stout beginnings of Dark Dawn come through with the mouthfeel — silky and still creamy, even with all those microorganisms devouring it  — and the smooth finish, a more slick and weighty beer than other sours. There are malt complexities beyond that, but you have to look for them, and surprisingly hard, considering how unsubtle imperial stouts typically are.

I don't mean that as a negative, but the sourness really dominates. I love the uniqueness of Madrugada Obscura; I've never had anything else quite like it. Don't think of it as a quirky stout so much as a very dark sour ale (at least after one year.) Whatever the hell it is, I need to stress: I really liked this beer. 

Availability: A winter release, supposedly, though I can usually find bottles almost year-round. Fresh bottles should hit in early spring, by my best estimates. 750 ml only.

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