We’re coming to the end of the Summer of Tasting Notes…just 10 days left before the Equinox. I’m taking a slightly different approach today as I fire off a “duo of tasting notes” (don’t worry, I won’t skip a day…I’ll just add one more beer). Normally I wouldn’t double-up like this, but these two beers are so similar in terms of their strengths and weaknesses that it just makes sense:

NOTES: Both – Bottle @ McHops Monastery

STYLE: Cherry Stout – Fruit Beer

Java Stout – Imperial Stout

ABV: Cherry Stout – 7%

Java Stout – 7.5%

APPEARANCE: Both – Opaque Black

HEAD: Cherry Stout – Very thin, reddish-brown head that fades to a small crown in seconds

Java Stout – Fluffy, pillowy tan head that fades appropriately

LACING: Cherry Stout – Almost non-existent. Just tiny dots here and there.

Java Stout – Spotty but excellent retention

NOSE: Cherry Stout – The stout dominates the nose, but the cherry is certainly present. Lots of roasted malt, hints of baker’s chocolate, and a whiff of espresso. The sour, tart aroma of cherry juice hits you at the end of each sniff. It’s a bit jarring…like you’re smelling two completely different beverages that shouldn’t be mixed together.

Java Stout – Here’s where the unfortunate similarities between the beers begin. The Bell’s Java has the same excellent stout nose as the Cherry…roasted malt and bitter chocolate. But like the Cherry, it smells like something “else” was dumped into the brew without being properly incorporated. In the case of the Cherry Stout, it was cherry juice. In the case of the Java Stout, it’s stale, strong coffee.

TASTE: Cherry Stout – As the nose implies, the malt profile is mostly roasted barley and bittersweet chocolate. The cherry juice comes on strong in the middle of the taste and dominates the finish. It’s sour, vinous, tart, and not particularly pleasant. Bell’s is a phenomenal brewery and I assumed they would incorporate the fruit into the stout very well, but alas, that was not the case. It honestly tastes likes someone accidentally spilled sour, cherry wine into my stout. I kept wanting to like it, but it just wasn’t working for me. Fruit beers are tricky…great examples are few and far between even for brewers of Bell’s caliber.

Java Stout – Again, the resemblance to the Cherry is uncanny. The excellent rich, roasted stout flavor up front is ham-handedly dashed by the strong, burnt coffee flavor in the middle and finish. It’s unpleasantly bitter, one-note, and it drowns out the beautiful beer “foundation”. Same fundamental problem as the Cherry Stout…but in this case, it tastes like bad coffee was spilled into my great beer.

MOUTHFEEL: Cherry Stout – Smooth, slick, and a wee bit heavier than medium-bodied. Not a truly “full”-bodied beer, but limited carbonation makes this one drink heavier than it should.

Java Stout – Similar body to the Cherry, but the excellent effervescence makes this one drink much lighter…closer to a true “medium”-bodied brew.

DRINKABILITY: Both – Very low. Look, I really like Bell’s. Their Expedition, Two Hearted, Kalamazoo, Double Cream, and of course their HopSlam are all brilliant examples of American craft brewing at its best. But the Cherry and Java Stout are poorly conceived, poorly executed, novelty beers. They should have only been on draft at the Bell’s Taproom for the brewery’s most ardent fans and kept off the package store shelves to save the rest of us from suffering buyer’s remorse.

RATING: Both – 2 Hops


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