Mmm ... oak.
Ska Brewing Co.'s twelfth Local Series release, Merlo Stout, hit the shelves Aug. 25 in 22-ounce bomber bottles.
Merlo Stout is the creation of Chris Vest, a 50-year-old Cortez man who realized the dream of every homebrewer in having his beer brewed by a commercial brewery.
Vest's stout won the Osiris Homebrew Competition in February. As his prize, Ska brewed Vest's beer for a limited commercial release.
Merlo Stout was aged in oak barrels to mimic the merlot taste in Vest's original recipe. Commercial brewers are prohibited from mixing wine and beer.
Stout, of course, is the king of dark beers. Just about every craft brewer makes a version, but they can differ greatly. There are dry stouts, like Guinness, and imperial stouts like Great Divide Yeti. There are chocolate stouts, oatmeal stouts and coffee stouts. Others too numerous to list.
This is the first time I've heard of a merlot stout.
Merlo Stout is big - 9.6 percent ABV. It pours very dark, with a small, tan head that was actually less robust than I expected.
A strong oak taste is most prominent at first. Initially I was disappointed. I had been expecting a stronger fruity wine note. It tasted almost more like a strong ale rather than a stout.
Ah, but give it a chance. As the glass warmed, that wine note I had been looking for emerged. Malts came into play. My mistake was in serving the bottle straight out of the refrigerator - much too cold.
Take your Merlo Stout out of the fridge at least 10 minutes before you want to drink it. Trust me, this will allow those flavors to come in from the cold.
Given Merlo Stout's strong alcohol content, drinking it with a meal isn't a bad idea, either. Such a beefy stout surely pairs well with all sorts of dishes.
Merlo Stout is deep, complex and tasty. I was hoping for a stronger fruity wine taste, which would have balanced the big body nicely. Nevertheless, an interesting and fairly innovative Local Series beer from Ska. B+