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The first batch of beer I ever attempted to brew was in England in 1976. I had been reading about homebrewing, but, as I learned several years later, my source was a sadly outdated homebrewing manual that advocated the use of table sugar in the brew. I followed the instructions, complete with corked bottles, and ended up with an unpleasantly sour and nasty beverage that tasted more like an off cider than beer.
Every brewer has had a bad brewing experience like my first attempt. I’ve had several others since then.
The most dangerous brewing mishap involved a batch of root beer that I was brewing for my kids. I just didn’t believe the ridiculously small amount of sugar called for in the recipe to give the root beer its carbonation, so I doubled the amount, which resulted in explosive bottles and glass shrapnel imbedding in the basement ceiling, until I donned armor and hauled the remains to the dumpster, fearing all the way that a piece of glass would pierce my brainpan, making me the first casualty of homebrewing.
The other major brewing mistake I made was not life threatening, unless you have a deadly allergy to licorice. I thought I’d make a licorice stout. I did some research, read the few recipes I could find, and found all of them to be wimpy in the licorice department.
We’re not talking gummy Twizzlers here. Licorice flavor is taken from the root of the licorice plant, an Old World legume species. The word licorice comes the Greeks and means “sweet root.” Brewers of porters and stouts use licorice root for the unique dark flavors it adds and its chemical ability to create and retain a nice tawny head.
Thinking, I want this to be a true licorice stout, I decided to triple the amount of licorice in my beer. The result? An obnoxiously upfront licorice flavor and a big, beautiful tawny head that wouldn’t quit. Big Licorice Sticky Stout was its name. My wife of that time said it was “icky,” so it became Big Icky Licorice Sticky Stout.
She wasn’t alone in thinking it was icky. The intensity of this licorice stout was too much for almost everyone, including its creator. There was one person who liked it, a workmate who just happened to grow up in Door County. Jim Olski loved that licorice stout.
After about a year or so, the licorice flavor did settle down and left a very dark stout. But by that time, there wasn’t much left. Olski had sucked most of it down.
These many years later, I am happy to see Goose Island’s The Muddy Imperial Stout “featuring amplified sweetness with licorice notes.”
Well, this is no Big Icky Licorice Sticky Stout, and that’s a good thing. You get some of that dark, sweet bitterness of licorice root, but not so much that licorice haters would be put off. I think you could mistake the licorice for coffee/chocolate notes, if you didn’t know better.
When a beer from Chicago is named The Muddy, you naturally think of Muddy Waters. The four-pack does feature a guitar amplifier, but the copy on the box says the beer honors “the rich talents of the 1940’s [sic] Chicago blues scene [who] pioneered the amplified guitar, inspiring classic rock music.”
While I get what the sentence is trying to say – this beer has deep roots – it attempts too great a leap, as well as containing one of my pet punctuation/logic peeves (punctuation is really all about logic, isn’t it?). To equate Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf or Little Walter with Styx (sorry, that’s what I think of when I hear the term “classic rock”), well, it does not compute.
Overlooking the advertising distractions, this is a beer that offers a dark rainbow of flavors that shift slightly depending on the temperature at which it is served. Straight from the fridge, it comes across sharper and more chocolaty. Let it come to room temperature, which is 60-ish at my place, and it takes on deeper, more primordial flavors.