Notes of a Beer Nerd: Unita Brewing Labyrinth Black Ale
***Notes of a Beer Nerd is a column written by resident cellar dwelling mammal, Timperial Stout. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, concerns or comments***
Enjoyed on 2/3/2011
Brewery: Uinta Brewing Co.
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Beer: Labyrinth Black Ale
Presentation: 750 ml – Blown Glass Bottle – Corked & Caged
Style: Imperial Stout
Recommended Serving Temp: 45 degrees
Enter the Labyrinth, a multi-dimensional black ale. Discover the complex intermingling of black licorice and toasted oak. Seek the subtle hints of bittersweet chocolate. Explore pairing Labyrinth with flavorful cheeses and rich desserts.
Food Pairings: Game, Gelato, Chocolate Cake
Cheese Pairings: Brie, Gouda
Music Pairing: David Bowie
Beer Advocate: A- (4.08)
Rate Beer: 99 (3.78)
I’ve explained this many times before in this column, so I’ll make it brief. Uinta, by sending their Crooked Line to Seattle before any of their standard beers, is playing a hand that has become very familiar to us beer geeks. Send the trendy, extreme beers first when attempting to enter a new market and build up a reputation. Then, slip in the standards and lay down more of a foundation. Labyrinth is one of four beers in the Crooked Line and it’s an imperial stout. You know full well that Timperial Stout had to try it. Here we go!
They should call this a black ale. Oh, wait… Yeah, this is black alright. It’s about as devoid of transparency as a brick wall. I think I could ignite a fist sized chunk of magnesium behind the glass and not even know that anything was different in the room. I held it up to the light and the room went black. I think you get it. Labyrinth is impossibly black.
The head rose up on the pour with just the vigor that I would expect from a high gravity stout that has been bottle conditioned. Actually, now that I think about it, that expectation took a bit of subconscious calculation. I’d expect a high gravity stout to have a very minimal head and a bottle conditioned beer to have quite a large head, so I figured it would about split the difference, and it did. As it somewhat quickly receded, some thin lacing layed in its wake.
That head is very much the color that you would expect from a beer so jet black. It’s espresso colored. It’s a very dark tan, near brown with auburn highlights. I just described my ideal head on a beer. It’s so beautiful and inviting I can’t wait to sip!
A deep inhale at the mouth of the glass forces a massive smile to my face. The odor speaks of an amazing imperial stout. It’s so deep and roasted and complex and sweet… The first thing that comes to mind is a very high cocoa content chocolate bar put into convection and sweetened generously. A flourless chocolate torte perhaps? Definitely something baked and dry. Brownies might be too sweet to apply here. The licorice is faint but detectable and works magnificently. Vanilla bean seems to be involved as well.
The oak combines with the base grain and the hops to form the scent’s backbone and bring realization to the experience – this is in fact a beer and not a melted desert. There is some earthiness, some damp wood and a little bitter coffee. The whole experience is a bit frantic as the sweets and the not-so-sweets are constantly struggling for supremacy.
Oh how silky smooth it is! It’s not the most viscous impy stout I’ve ever had but it’s close. Labyrinth coats every corner of the mouth with its essence and has absolutely no reservations about it. This beer is a big, bold bully and any lingering flavor that may have existed in my mouth prior to it’s arrival has been sent packing, tail between its legs. I slight swishing of the liquid stimulates enough carbonation frothing to sting my cheeks, or maybe that’s the booze. It’s a pleasure to be drinking this tonight.
Upon my very first taste of Labyrinth I felt I had a serious winner. It’s thick and robust. It has a bitterness, but it’s mostly sweet. It’s a beast of an ale, not doubt. But, after subsequent sips, and as the beer warms, I’m becoming less and less attracted to it. It’s highly astringent and the booze is somewhat painful. I do very much like the chocolate cake notes and the oak has infused itself marvelously. Those two elements are not to be overlooked. I think that the licorice is somewhat harsh and the overall grain bill may be too heavily weighted toward black.
The label on the bottle does suggest that Labyrinth is better at cooler temperatures. I don’t know why I always ignore these precautions. I guess, ultimately, I don’t think that a beer should be hiding in the foggy, fault-hiding chills. Let that shit breath. Let my taste buds work in their ideal temperature zone.
As I push deeper and deeper into the bottle I begin to think that I won’t be able to finish it. I couldn’t tell you the last time that that happened. There continues to be flashes of the greatness that this beer has to offer (chocolate, oak) but they are fleeting at best. A medicinal quality begins to appear, but it’s mostly just this weird earthiness and some metallic, off flavors. I feel somewhat like I’m eating a piece of rain-soaked bark with a rubbing alcohol chaser.
This area is two parted. In the forefront, there is a booze laces acidity that is really burning the inside of my mouth. Just as it sounds, it’s uncomfortable. The second part is a chalky bittersweet chocolate dusting that isn’t exactly bad but I’d much prefer a sweeter finish. It’s all pretty acrid and it lingers for some time.
I feel terrible because I probably shouldn’t have reviewed this beer but I needed to get a review in and based on the beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com ratings I figured this would be a treat. Maybe I’m just a bit off today. I’m going to give this beer one more try someday soon. Maybe I just got a bad bottle or bad batch or something. Uinta deserves better treatment from me than this.
If you like Uinta Labyrinth Black Ale, you should try…
Full Sail Brewing’s Imperial Porter; Deschutes Brewing’s Abyss; Goose Island Brewing’s Bourbon County Stout
Disclaimer: This beer was purchased on my own with my own hard-earned money at a local bottle shop, and aged to perfection by yours truly.