AN OUTRAGEOUS RIFF upon the already bombastic Black Tuesday imperial stout, The Bruery’s Chocolate Rain deserves a spotlighted podium in the museum of modern brewing. Beyond being 1) an imperial stout 2) bourbon barrel-aged 3) for a year-plus 4) with vanilla beans 5) and cocoa nibs, Chocolate Rain comes in at a gobsmacking 18+% ABV, depending on the vintage. Is now the right time to say ‘It never rains but it pours’?
The beer literally does pour like motor oil—massively viscous, a minimal oily head, impenetrable to light (100+ SRM)—and shows visible legs when swirled even gently. Its aroma is vastly luscious, packed with anise, molasses, dark chocolate (fudge, really), black roasted malt, and vanilla and coffee bean so powerfully fused as to be a single sensation. The barrel-aging is also potent with heavy lashes of oak, barrel char, bourbon corn crackle, and booze. Lots of booze, actually: enough for its fumes to begin to clear out the sinuses a touch and overwhelm the subtler flavors if inhaled too deeply.
All of these aromas manifest into flavors in a torrent, with each only emerging once the palate acclimates to the massively warm body and barrel-crackling finish. Carbonation is sufficient to keep the beer from sticking to the esophagus, but hardly enters into conscious thought and is a minimal factor in the mouthfeel and texture. Lightly piney hops can sometimes be picked out, along with more isolated vanilla smoothness, though clouds of dark chocolate still reign (rain?) over all.
Some argue that this beer is more about excess than excellence, and to some degree that complaint might be fair. Even hours after sampling Chocolate Rain remains heavy on the mind, palate, and stomach. But to unleash such a massive beer and have it be any kind of palatable—not least for its alcohol content—is an achievement of patience if nothing else. And considering all the superlatives dropped in these preceding paragraphs, a snifter of Chocolate Rain is deceptively easy to reach for repeatedly. Yet each encounter still furrows the brow, stuns the taste buds, and commands an involuntary, faintly incredulous ‘Wow’. From there drinkers’ opinions will diverge into adulation, antipathy, or perhaps even a little of both*. But all must admit that Chocolate Rain is a not just a beer in a bottle—it’s an event. An epoch, even, unlikely to be forgotten.
Yes, The Bruery has rocketed to the top of hyped new names with some truly wild recipes commanding equally extravagant prices. Some drinkers are understandably perturbed by that meteoric rise. But that ostensibly sudden traction did not grow overnight, nor from nothing. Rather, it comes only with discipline (they reportedly cellar more beer than they sell) and years patiently spent behind closed doors, in tasting rooms and aging cellars where the brewers concocted and cultivated these brews long before they became instant legends. Somehow The Bruery has managed to slow-play their hand in one of the fastest-moving industries around. And so far it looks like they’re winning.
Served: 750 ml bottled 3/4/13)
* Note – The rating here reflects this continued ambivalence. On the one hand the beer is a brilliant stunner, 100 without a doubt. On the other it is hugely oversaturated and imprudent, but still a memorable rarity worth around 88. We’ll split the difference, but never settle it.