Well, it's paper-writing week here at the U, and that means I don't have time to conjure up any deep thoughts or big comparative things. Instead I've decided (in brief form) to give the whole "imperial stout with coffee" thing another chance. This may or may not be a horrible idea.
The Lagunitas folks - who are, oddly enough, located about twenty miles north of Lagunitas, in Petaluma - may be from California, but they're fairly ubiquitous here in Illinois somehow. The Binnys website lists 18 of their beers, and I've yet to visit a reputable store without at least a few of their brews in stock. But aside from their IPA - which is almost architypically Californian, to a fault - I've never actually had any of these things. Tonight that changes. The goofy dog on the bottle has sold me, and so I'm trying out their December seasonal: the Cappucino Stout. So, here we go.
Well, it pours black (no surprise there), although when held up to a lamp I can detect some of the light still getting through. Funny enough, it's all ruby at the edges rather than brown. There's a cute little wheat-colored head, too, about a finger's worth, which then quickly dies away (this thing is north of 9% abv, after all). And the aroma - oh, happy days, they've done this one properly. Unlike the Breakfast Stout from Founders, which (you'll recall) I kind of hated, this one comes off as really well-balanced. The coffee is right out front, but kept under control by the addition of a thick ol' slab of sweet malts. Think of a slice of chocolate cake served with a cup of joe and you'll be close. And given a ton of agitation, I can actually detect some hops as well - which, for this kind of beer, is new to me. It's not a nose for the ages (I think I ultimately prefer the Kona Porter), but it's still an unexpectedly pleasant one.
The taste is quite a bit more varied, although it would be a stretch to say that anything about it is totally unexpected. At the front end and quite a ways beyond, this just comes across as a nice, extremely mild imperial stout: lots of bittersweet roasty malts and just a touch of dark fruit. As it moves towards the back of one's mouth, though, the coffee sweeps in like a German panzer brigade. Things get very bitter very fast as the bumble bean swarms over just about everything. And then, right after this, the hops try to push their way through - I can't really tell what sort they are, though, because they're clearly not making much headway against the onslaught. They do provide a lovely touch of dryness to the aftertaste, though, which is otherwise just coffee bitterness and a lingering chocolatey sweetness from the malts. As far as its texture, it comes across as rather thin for the style (not a motor oil, this) but still quite full-bodied and mouth-coating. It's pleasant, but not easy, to drink: you could easily spend a few hours on one bottle.
Bottom line? I like it. It's not something I would drink every day and it still falls short of perfection here and there, but it's a fine beer all the same. It's a good one to split with a group of friends, really, as anyone but a seasoned veteran is going to have trouble finishing a full deuce-deuce of this stuff. It hasn't dethroned the Kona as my favorite coffee beer, but it adds new evidence against my assertion that the idea of such a thing is fundamentally misguided.
Summary: The first imperial coffee stout I've ever had that actually works.