Tasting the Goose Island Night Stalker

I was initially drawn in by the ominous branding and stance of this tall dark Imperial Stout by Goose Island. I remember when I first saw the labeling on BeerNews.org in January; instantly I wanted to get a hold of this beer. Good branding guys, it worked!

It would actually be the first Goose Island beer I would ever have, and after quite some time reading and hearing great things about their beers. Unfortunately though we don’t get any in Ontario, and they don’t always travel north to the boarder where I can grab them. Last time I was in Buffalo I got lucky though, and I grabbed a bottle of the Night Stalker Imperial Stout and the Bourbon County Stout, which blew me away.

The Night Stalker averages an “A” rating on Beer Advocate, so it should not be taken lightly – I was definitely ready for this guy!

This is Goose Island’s hopped Imperial Stout, or “heavily hopped heavyweight” as they call it. It comes only in 650ml bottles at 11.2% abv, and stares deep into your soul just standing there. Already it is black and devious, as if it is hiding a secret from you that may very well alter the course of time. But its beer, not a time machine, or a nuclear rocket, so its fine.

The Night Stalker is brewed with six different malts and two varieties of hops. Goose Island recommends serving the Night Stalker around 8C (40F), which is quite cold. I would have normally opened it up around 12 to 14C to let all the rich aromas and flavors pour out. But, its their beer, so I’ll listen to them. The pour was thick and creamy building a black-as-night beer with the slightest deep amber red brick glimmer shining through the edges when held into the light. A nice whipped tan brown head developed an inch off the beer and really did look very appetizing. It was frothy and creamy like a milkshake; this was going to be interesting.

The nose was so delicious. Right away you got the obvious blast of fresh aromatic hops bringing touches of citrus, hay field, cut grass, pine, and earth. Get underneath the hops and bitter chocolate and warm caramel malts rest in the backbone of this beer – as they should. Deep roasted barley flavors and charred oak melts across your nose, and a molasses like sweetness touches caramel again with more dark chocolate.

Swirling in my snifter this beer opened up to me and forced me into it. Waves of hops opened my palate to crisp chocolaty sensations with oak, vanilla, caramel and deep rich malt character. The hops seem built separately from the malt, sort of resting directly on top of them. At this cold temperature this big and wide Imperial Stout was very refreshing, but a touch muted. I decided to let it rest and warm a touch too see what flavors would emerge.

Sure enough, now closer to 10 or 12C this beer has really opened itself to me now! The hops are still there right away, but they are slightly more mellow and less up in your face. Now the smooth and creamy texture of the beer could shine through bringing with it soft bitter chocolate, dark dried fruits, warm alcoholic vanilla beans, hints of caramel and light notes of coffee beans. Oak and char was subtly gliding through my cheeks, as was rich roast and earthy smoke.

Just and FYI Goose Island, your Night Stalker is better warm.

Continuing on this beer I got more richness and traces of toffee, cocoa bean and yet deeper malts made their way in too. The malt complexity was truly delicious, showing layers of rich flavors and smooth endearing character. The mouthfeel was also now more sublime. It had become creamy and soft with a silky, slightly oil-like texture. It fills your taste buds gently but richly.

The finish too was excellent as the hop bitterness comes back to quench. It is dry and tight with a slight alcohol sweetness and lemon-lime zest at the end. I get a whiff of wood also, and more dry chocolate. UUuummmm, thank you. This was a delicious stout – just delicious. However, that being said, I also drank the Bourbon County Stout the same night. And not to take away from the Night Stalker, but the Bourbon County is really Goose Island’s 5th Symphony.

Find the Night Stalker and enjoy it with rich chocolate deserts, roast beef, or even as breakfast. If you are able to grab a couple bottles, I would recommend cellaring a few. Chances are this beer will really pick up steam in two or three years. Wow.

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