Name: Stone Master Of Disguise
Style: “Imperial Golden Stout”
Numbers: 9.7% ABV, 55 IBUs
You would have thought that New York City would be bristling with America’s best craft beer bars. It has 8 million residents, some 50 million annual visitors, is arguably the cultural center of the world and is generally where it’s at.
Alas, this is not the case. NYC is distinctly, relatively, poor when it comes to both craft bars and sports bars. (The latter really annoys me, but that’s for another time.) It’s great for restaurants of every type, level with London for the best cocktail bars in the world, has a great coffee shop on every other block and is teeming with Irish pubs. It is also, unfortunately, jam-packed with tourist bars and restaurants. And therein lies the rub I guess – craft bars are a new thing, and niche. And rents in New York are as sky-high as the office buildings it’s famous for, meaning bars that cram the omnipresent tourist trade in take up the space and demand, and craft bars – known for slow pours, high prices and a laid-back environment – struggle to afford the square footage.
Fortunately this is changing, and fast. For the record, here are my favorite spots to enjoy craft beer in New York City.
2. The Pony Bar, Upper East Side and Hell’s Kitchen
3. TØRST in Greenpoint
4. Ginger Man in Midtown
5. Spuyten Duyvil in Williamsburg
6. Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village
7. Swift Hibernian Lounge in the East Village (and sister bars Ulysses and The Growler)
8. Coopers Craft & Kitchen, also in the East Village
There are several more, including those I haven’t been to, but you won’t go wrong in these joints. Pricey, but it’s New York we’re talking.
And there’s one big omission from the list: The Blind Tiger in the West Village, New York’s “original” craft beer bar (founded 1995). Why not on the list? Because apart from one late night, not very awesome visit (the place is famously stuffed Thursday-Sunday), I hadn’t been. But yesterday Stone Brewing, the IPA luminary from San Diego, tweeted that there would be a tap takeover, and I figured, when better to check it out?
And I’m glad I did – when it’s quiet, it’s awesome! It combines the Cheers-esque feel of a classic American beer bar with a Northern/Western European pub vibe. And best of all on a 28F day, a massive real fireplace blazing away. Loved it, and highly recommend it, especially before 7pm. (I was there 3-5pm. As y’do.)
They had a Stone takeover of 12 taps, including two casks, which isn’t really a takeover as that’s only 40% of their 31 taps. All the beers looked good, and they had some rarities like Midnight Sun on offer. But seeing as how it was Stone that got me through the door, I rewarded them with my custom.
I warmed up with Stone’s classic double IPA, Ruination, and was reminded why this daddy of the IPA scene is where it is. Luscious, sharp, balanced and dry – everything a good IPA should be. Thoroughly enjoyable. I took a while to select my second beer, figuring I’d try something new. As, except when I visited Stone’s taproom in San Diego, I tend to go with their IPAs, I went with a more off-beat choice.
I landed on Master Of Disguise, a “golden” stout, which is an output of Stone’s experimental beers lab, called the Stochasticity Project. I tried a “white” stout a few months ago in San Francisco and wasn’t massively impressed, but one should never allow a single data point to form one’s opinion. So foregoing the misgivings of a stout-adorer (I mean, the BJCP’s definition of stout is black, or nearly black in color) I took my freshly poured glass to a table by the fire and gave it my full attention.
The beer menu told me that Master Of Disguise was effectively a simulation of a stout. To recreate the chocolate and coffee aromas that roasted barley produces they added…chocolate and coffee. And to give the thick mouthfeel of a typical stout (assuming on nitro, I guess) they brewed using oatmeal as an adjunct. Clever.
The beer was indeed a vibrant golden/copper color. And quite clear too, almost like a Belgian golden ale. Again to mimic the smooth texture of a nitro the carbonation was low, so the head was thin, but bright white.
The aroma was surprisingly unique and interesting. I got hit by burnt toast, coffee and cocoa bean notes, playing over a background of orange peel. It was really intriguing, but not completely balanced. Ironically, by using real coffee and cocoa beans as additives the brewers created less appealing coffee and chocolate aromas than those produced by roasted barley or dark malts. A few more sniffs unveiled some fresh corn, cream, spices and a faint leather smell.
In my mouth the beer was viscous and full, and pretty heavy – unsurprisingly given the 9.7% ABV. It was also bitter, feeling like a lot more than the 55 IBUs listed. The finish was slightly reminiscent of stewed coffee. Not overly unpleasant, but not very clean. The low carbonation gives a light prickle to the beer. Like the aroma, this beer tastes really interesting and its finish is long as can be.
I take my hat off to the ingenuity and work that went into this beer – and I love that an established brewer such as Stone is making niche plays like this. Despite my initial bah-that’s-not-a-stout reaction, I’m really pleased that beers like this are being made. The day the BJCP guidelines are considered a straight jacket is the day we can call go home. And overall, while no masterpiece, this was a really enjoyable drink. Well done to them, and well done to Blind Tiger for being an excellent craft beer bar. Which is now added to my list.