Drink Magazine

Coffee Beers #2 (25.VI.11): Black Xantus – Nectar Ales, California

By Aristippos
Coffee Beers #2 (25.VI.11): Black Xantus – Nectar Ales, California

Black Xantus, Imperial Stout - Coffee Beer / Nectar Ales, California

When it comes to juices, a nectar ought to be understood as product, which is “less” than juice. There is less fruit in a fruit nectar drink than in a fruit juice. However, when a brewery refers to a beer bottle containing a nectar, one can expect “more” – more density, more substance, more sweetness, more taste. Here is the terminology in agreement with the nectar in biblical connotation.

My beer marathon is momentarily a one-a-day process. For me it is more than enough, actually to much, drinking one of these craft beers on a daily basis, but to study a taste with depth, it is not enough to take three sips. Thus, I am doing my best to finish bottles – at least the small ones – while still maintaining a clear mind to define what I intake and what my palate perceives. And so, today I have prepared myself to taste a Nectar Ales from Paso Robles, California. And IT IS A NECTAR in the “more” sense of the term. This is a syrup, a dense brew, almost a milk dressed in black. 

Re-living with the palate my several Guiness beers during the time in Great Britain, this brew is thicker, less bitter and clearly sweeter, but without being to sweet and without losing its strength on herbal notes to the sweetness. The sweetness is by no means overpowering.

The brewery makes no mention of coffee on the label, but the friendly salesmen at Whole Foods Market assured me that there is coffee in the bottle in some form. And they were right! The Nectar Ales Brewery website is designed in the traditional west coast coolness, with beach colours and symbols, as well as a language of celebration, but it took me a little while to find any information about what mattered to me – is there any coffee in here? There is coffee, and not just any coffee. This Imperial Stout which has been aged in American oak barrels has been infused with “fairly traded” organic coffee from the local roaster Jobella Coffee.

Black Xantus (pronounced Zantis), the hummingbird on the label (also used as the company’s logo) is truly a unique bird and the name of this imperial stout. Here, it is named “saint”, while for the early Maya civilisation hummingbirds were also connected with their spirituality.

Containing this coffee we have here the “first ever barrel-aged nectar ale,” of which only 500 cases where produced that contain solely 22oz. bottles. Hence, “Special Limited Release” is on the label.

My perception notes -

This beer is in colour what one would expect from the members of this black brotherhood – intense brown that could be called black. The head builds itself up and reacts like the crema on a proper espresso, reforming itself whenever disturbed by a spoon. It has a dark caramel color, a dark tan.

Malt is the very first thing to reach the nose and it stays that way. A coffee note is not so clear to detect, what could be seen as sign of a good blend.

Malt is once more the central connection for my palate. A quite intense malt flavour with a sweetness which clearly overshadows the bitterness, yet without being to sweet. Molasses…
Some beer producers mention coffee, others mention espresso. I would call it ristretto – a concentrated ale blended with a concentrated espresso, rounded off by some  soft black cherry notes.

The principal experience of this “more” nectar prevails, a pleasant thickness. So much that one might almost expect to feel some fruit pulp.
The carbonation level is on the mild side.

Overall impression:
This beer is a must for any person interested in knowing and enjoying how much a single beer could offer. It is a must for wild beer lovers with high expectations. It is also a must for coffee lovers, certainly not because it tastes so much like it, but because here is an example of true alchemical work – it is not about being THE taste, but about contributing to the versatility and balance of a taste in the right measure. 

Russian Imperial Stout
Aged in Bourbon Barrels
ABV- 13% / in the bottle 11%
Color- Black
IBU- 50.0

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