Editor’s Note: This beer was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
New York City was once a beer brewing capital of the world. In the wake of nearly five million Germans immigrating to the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century, many traditional German-style breweries were founded in areas where this population was densest. Echoes of this diaspora can be heard in the names of many modern beer brands: Anheuser-Busch, Schlitz, and Pabst, to name a few.
Yet many (by some accounts, roughly 50) such breweries once existed at the hub of American immigration itself: New York. It was only when Prohibition dismantled these breweries during the early twentieth century that the institution died off.
Luckily, as part of an effort to restore the city to its rightful place among the world’s beer meccas, Brooklyn Brewery was launched in 1987 by founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. In the beginning, it was all risk and no reward. Few purveyors were willing to take a chance on a spendy domestic beer with no reputation, and Hindy and Potter were forced to contract brew out of a plant in Utica, lacking their own brewery. Still, they weathered the storm and soon enough, the community began to respond positively.
By 1994, they were ready to set up their own production space and went on the hunt for a brewmaster. They found Garrett Oliver.
Oliver, formerly of Manhattan Brewing before signing onto Brooklyn Brewing, is something of a celebrity in the world of beer. Since joining the company way back in 1994, Oliver has been responsible for some of the world’s most in-demand and celebrated beers and several acclaimed books on the subject of beer and its relation to food. He even won the 2014 James Beard Award for Excellent Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. And one thing that has become clear about Oliver (other than his passion and wealth of expertise in the world of brewing) is that he loves to collaborate.
Whether it be the beer dinner he co-hosted with famous chef Tom Colicchio, the Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse brewed with G. Schneider and Sohn’s Hans-Peter Drexler, or the contract with Kiuchi Brewery (responsible for the iconic Hitachino Nest) which allows them to brew Brooklyn Brewery beer in Japan, Oliver seems to thrive under cooperation. As accompaniment for the Colicchio dinner, Oliver brewed a dark stout aged four months in Woodford Reserve barrels: the original Black Ops Stout. While its limited run is over, a new version of Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Ops Barrel Aged Stout hit the market a few months back: this time, it’s the Four Roses Distillery edition, which clocks in at a whopping 12.4% ABV.
Naturally, this new batch is aged in Four Roses Small Batch bourbon barrels rather than Woodford Reserve. Although I never had the opportunity to taste the original batch, and can therefore only speculate as to the differences between the two, I was lucky to be able to taste the newer version. The Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is juicy, smooth, and sweet, with notes of lemony apple jam and a long, blended-berry finish. As might be expected, these traits transfer beautifully to the beer and result in perhaps the darkest, most nuanced beer I’ve ever tasted. It is also one of the most delicious.
Tasting Notes: Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops Barrel Aged Stout Four Roses Edition
Vital Stats: $16/750ml, 12.4% ABV, aged in Four Roses Distillery bourbon barrels.
Appearance: Dark as night and thick as wool.
Nose: The bouquet is extremely strong; from the moment the can is opened, deep mocha scents fill the nostrils.
Palate: Exceedingly rich, yes, but also not overpowering. Fills the mouth without suffocating under bitter umami. Notes present are not particularly inventive—cocoa and vanilla suffusing the brew and remaining most pronounced throughout, backed by dark cherries then a milky mildness on the finish—yet everything is in balance, and sometimes that is enough.
Summary: An incredible beer, from cracking the can to the very last drop. I expected a torturous tasting and a tongue stripped of its taste buds, but Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops Four Roses Edition loads up on richness while simultaneously leaving astringency out of it. A beer with an ABV so ludicrously high shouldn’t be so drinkable, and yet, had I not known it beforehand, I would have placed it at 8-9% ABV. This is the stout that has convinced me to reconsider stouts, and if you also prefer lighter beers, you should give it a chance to do the same for you.
Austin Scarberry is a writer and pastry chef based in Portland, Oregon. He uses his experience in the culinary industry to inform his reviews, letting the gentle thoughtfulness he learned from baking guide his work. Outside of The Whiskey Wash, he mainly writes poetry and fantasy/sci-fi. You can find his...