'Tis the season for holiday brews. Around the time of the first big snowfalls of the season, brewpubs start tapping their big winter beers. The downtown flagship of the Great Dane has a tradition of releasing a special holiday brew named Merry Isthmus. Brewed in a different style every Christmas season, this year's edition is an imperial stout, with smooth malty tones and a dry roasted finish.
What is it? Merry Isthmus Ale from the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company - Downtown.
Style: The imperial stout is dark copper to black in color, and very rich in malty aroma and flavor. This style of stout commonly offers caramel and deep roasted chocolate malt, with some fruity esters. However, it's those rich malty tones that dominate. This beer can be quite strong, ranging from 7% ABV and higher. The style is sometimes called a "Russian imperial stout," a reference to the beers exported by the Thrale family-owned Anchor Brewery in London to the Romanov court in St. Petersburg around the time of Catherine the Great.
Background: Every winter, the downtown Great Dane creates a different beer for its Merry Isthmus Ale. This season's version is an imperial stout, featuring a lot of chocolate malt to add color and flavor. Brewer Eric Bruswitz also makes it with a nice amount of Maris Otter malt, which contributes a rich caramel background and smooth mouth feel.
Merry Isthmus is a brew to enjoy several times over the next few weeks. Bruswitz says it is filtered and prepared for serving in 100-gallon increments, while the remaining beer is kept in the conditioning tank and allowed to continue to subtly age. This process likely adds some mellowing of the harsher roasted tones, but it all depends upon how fast the beer sells, and thus how long any will remain in the conditioning tank. Bruswitz says he expects the brew to be available for several weeks, so it might be possible to notice a slight softening and rounding-out of roasted flavors between visits.
Merry Isthmus Ale finishes around 7.5% ABV. It sells for $5.50/pint and $10/growler (refill).
- Aroma: Light roasted aroma.
- Texture: Medium bodied, some might consider it light for an imperial stout, but it certainly makes it very drinkable.
- Taste: A firm chocolate maltiness is up front, a light roasted and dry background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Chocolate malt in the end with some light dryness.
Glassware: Imperial stouts are most commonly served in a brandy snifter, but the lighter body of this beer and more balance in flavor gives the nod to the British pint glass for its brilliant display of its vivid black color.
Pairs well with: An imperial stout can often be a dessert on its own, and wedding it with chocolate can be exquisite. While it boasts plenty of flavor, Merry Isthmus Ale has more balance than most in the style, and for that reason it has great potential to be a fine meal beer for roasted meats and even sweet barbeque.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Merry Isthmus Ale is an almost sessionable imperial stout, if not for its 7.5% ABV that can surprise like an unexpected holiday gift. This beer is just a little lighter in body than fans of the style might expect, but I really appreciate its chocolate maltiness and deep rich black color; both can be very welcoming on a cold winter's night. If you take a growler home, my suggestion is to leave a pint of this for Santa with a big gingerbread cookie near the tree. Ho Ho Ho.