In the world of beer, some styles seem to evolve right before our eyes. What tends to happen is, in some remote location, a brewer starts to make things that are super far off the grid stylistically. If this experimental product is well received, it is reproduced by other folks who appreciate the leap of faith another brewer took.
We’ve seen this happen with the advent of the New England IPA (NEIPA), and its many iterations being brewed across the country. And, as we all know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Just to clarify: Prairie Artisan Ales’ Basic Becky is definitely not a NEIPA. But it could be classified as what has recently been termed a “pastry stout.”
Pastry stouts grew out of a mash-up between sweet stouts and imperial stouts, but creativity has taken it in new directions.
For years, brewers sought ways to push the envelope without alienating drinkers. When we think of imperial stouts, we are usually thinking about high alcohol content and a very rich roasted flavor akin to coffee or bittersweet dark chocolate. These beers tend to have a bitterness, not from hops, but the use of highly kilned malt that gives the dark color and astringency these beers are known for.
On the other hand, sweet stouts are much lower in gravity—usually not more than 6 percent ABV—sweetened by the addition of lactose, or non-fermentable milk sugar.
Adding milk sugar is not the only way to increase sweetness in these beers, though. Some brewers hold their mash tuns (a hot water and grain vessel) at a little higher than normal temperatures, producing a lot more non-fermentable sugars that add sweetness and body to the finished beer. These beers tend to be far less bitter than any other type of stout and are known for a velvety body that is viscous and rich.
So brewers these days are smashing these two styles together and generally coming out with something that keeps the high alcohol content, the sweetness, and the full body, while leaving behind the bitterness from hops and astringency from the roasted malt.
That’s not to say there is no roast from the dark malt, but it is generally subdued. This style has become a playground for brewers to get a little wild with their flavor additions and beer treatment. You might find them aged for months in bourbon barrels with any number of ingredients added to them along the journey.
There are pastry stouts boasting the inclusion of German chocolate cake or made to taste like maple and ice cream.
One collaboration from Evil Twin Brewing and Westbrook Brewing is called, I kid you not, "Maple Bourbon Imperial Mexican Biscotti Toasted Coconut Cake Break." These are definitely dessert beers.
Just like with NEIPAs, there are a lot of beer style curmudgeons who do not like change and certainly don't like things that are outside of the norm. Hit up online beer forums and you’ll find several treatises about how these huge, sweet, imperial stouts are just too ridiculous to be taken seriously. The bad news for these folks is that the only constant in this world is change. Pastry stouts have found an audience and are here to stay.
Which brings us to Basic Becky...
This beer comes in at a very imperial 11 percent ABV. I could not find IBU numbers, though it is safe to assume it isn’t hoppy. The label boasts ingredients including: pumpkin, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, clove, and caraway. It’s quite an array of spices, but they work well together.
Aroma and Appearance
Generally I like to start by talking about a beers aroma, but I want to mention first how this beer pours like a glass of motor oil. Basic Becky is jet black with a dark brown head that dissipates quickly. You can see the beer’s viscosity as it rolls down between the carbonation bubbles rising. The nose on this beer is definitely a mish-mash of all of those spices listed on the label, with the cinnamon and allspice really standing out for me. There are some light notes of clove in the aroma and a little sweetness hiding in there as well.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
This beer comes out of the gate swinging with the spices. The cinnamon flavor definitely jumps to the front of the line and is much more pronounced than it was in the aroma. The nutmeg, allspice, and clove are also very present and help to round out the flavor in this beer. The caraway and coriander are minor players here, and despite not having much flavor I do feel like I am getting the pumpkin in this beer. It is certainly a strong, boozy beer, but it is also not overly hot, alcohol-wise. The body is medium to full, but I think the spices help to keep the beer from being too heavy.
I wanted to highlight this beer because I think it does a couple of things right. One thing is that it takes something that is often times polarizing (pumpkin beers) and couples it with another beer style that is equally divisive (pastry stouts), only to make a final product highlighting the best parts of both worlds.
These beers are made to be overly spiced, overly sweet, and overly boozy, and when mashed together like this, you get a product that is original and works really well. I like this beer a lot, and if you get the chance to try some, I would recommend it.