Keith Symonds, owner and brewmaster at Next Door Brewing, is offering an early taste of Christmas with a new stout. "I love the spices of the holidays and so I worked backwards from there," he says. His Egg Nog Sweet Stout is rich, smooth and spicy, with the seductive decadence of eggnog. The beer "has everything but the eggs," he says, and just went on tap.
What is it? Egg Nog Sweet Stout from Next Door Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin.
Style: Egg Nog Sweet Stout, as the name indicates, begins with a stout as its underlying beer. Sweet stouts, cream stouts and milk stouts are all very similar. They emphasize malt, with smooth chocolate and caramel flavors -- they're stouts with higher amounts of unfermented sugars, which add body and sweetness. Milk stouts in particular, made with lactose, have this effect. These varieties differ from the Irish-style dry stout, a more roasted and mildly hoppy beer that's defined by Guinness. Sweet stouts are not hoppy and feature low bitterness -- just enough for balance with the malty sweetness. In sweet, cream and milk stouts, the roasted flavors from the malts should also be low. They commonly range in alcohol from 4-6% ABV.
Background: Next Door Egg Nog Sweet Stout is made with lots of malts, about a half-dozen in all. This gives it a dark color with hints of chocolate and caramel. Lactose and a touch of oats lend a soft texture and mouthfeel. All those are the building blocks for a nice sweet stout. Symonds then goes on to add cracked nutmeg, Madagascar vanilla beans and oak chips soaked in bourbon and brandy.
"I wanted to add just enough to make you wonder what's in the beer," says Symonds. He relishes the creativity he gets to display in his small brewhouse, where he makes beers in three-barrel batches. The small batch size allows him to experiment and take risks that larger commercial breweries can't sustain.
The payoff for Symonds is a fun seasonal one-off batch that's a unique entry among Wisconsin-made holiday spiced beers. Egg Nog Sweet Stout is the 25th batch of beer that Symonds has made since opening just three months ago.
Next Door Brewing certainly has connected with Madison's beer drinkers. Symonds says he was expecting to produce 25 batches within his first 12 months, not three. Beyond his own on-site brewing, Symonds has received help in making Next Door's standard beers always on draught (Sevex, Wilbur! and WPA) from the House of Brews and its brewmaster Page Buchanan. "That initial contract brewing with Page was essential to keeping up," says Symonds. To meet demand, he's adding more fermenters, and by February will have the potential to double the output of his brew house. With those new tanks, eventually production of all Next Door beers will be done on-site.
Egg Nog Sweet Stout will be served on a nitrogen tap line, which will accentuate its soft texture. Its carbonation is kept low, but the nitrogen will give it a thick, soft, creamy head of foam (which will be topped with freshly grated nutmeg). The beer finishes at 5.5% ABV. It's available only at the brewpub, where it sells for about $5 (pint). Because it is served on nitrogen, it doesn't hold up well in growlers, so it's not available to take home. And since this it's a limited release, the beer is not expected to be around long -- so don't wait until Christmas or New Year's!
If you miss out on this holiday brew, don't fret; Symonds will be releasing a spiced ale in mid-December.
- Aroma: Hints of sweet spirits (the bourbon seems most evident), along with dark roasted chocolate malt.
- Appearance: Black, with bronze highlights. On a nitrogen tap, expect a soft, creamy, tan head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied. Soft and smooth. Again, when served on nitrogen this softness will be even more evident.
- Taste: The sweeter malty tones are up front. There are some light-roasted, toffee-like tones that come in midway and then mingle with hints of bourbon and brandy sweetness. The vanilla stays in the background and is hard to detect.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The light roastedness lingers and blends with the sweetness of the vanilla, bourbon, brandy and the tannins of the oak chips. The spicy nutmeg combines with the oak for a light dryness in the end. However, the chocolate malt and hints of sprits make up most of the final flavors.
Glassware: Next Door serves this beer in the Willi Becher, a wonderful glass for gently coaxing the light sweet aroma of bourbon, malts and nutmeg under your nose.
Pairs well with: Next Door Egg Nog Sweet Stout is dessert all on its own. To bring out the decadence, turn to Next Door's menu and try it with Calliope Ice Cream. This beer with a scoop of Mexican Hot Chocolate or even the Spicy Peanut Butter ice cream will make for a sweet break from holiday shopping.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Next Door Egg Nog Sweet Stout is a special find for those who go looking for one-off beers, and especially for those who like spiced holiday brews. It's a distinctive, enjoyable, even venturesome. It's full of flavor, sweetness and spicy tones, but not so far afield that you forget you're drinking a solid sweet stout, on in which the accents of vanilla, bourbon, brandy and nutmeg all blend together very well.