Nectar Ales was founded in 1987 in Northern California helping to pioneer the craft beer moment in America.  Since 2003, when Firestone Walker Brewing Company acquired Nectar, the brand has provided three year round beers to their line up.  Recently (2009) they added this annual release with is limited to roughly 400-500 cases.  It incorporates coffee to the brewing process from a local company called Jobella Coffee Roasters and then it is aged in oak barrels.  A majority of coffee beers today use a cold press method of making a batch then adding it to the beer later.  However, FW steeps the beans right after flame out or during the whirlpool stage while the wort is still hot.  In addition, the barrels used are a mixture Bourbon, Brandy, and neutral that have been blended.

This beer has a lot going on.  I felt like I was drinking Firestone’s 14th Anniversary to some degree as Black Xantus had oatmeal, coffee, chocolate, high alcohol, and roasted grain notes which coated the palate wonderfully.  On the other hand, this beer stood on its own credentials.  Allow me to explain.

The appearance was very appealing.  A dark mahogany-brown as it poured which ended in a raven black core in the glass.  A thick creamy, yet rather rocky, head rose slowly with a deep beige/mocha hue.  It lasted for a while then faded into the brew where a gentle swirl would bring it back.

Dominate.  That would be the word I’d use to describe the aroma.  Big, bold, and brazen notes just about everything you would want in a Russian Imperial, Oatmeal, Dry, Sweet, and Coffee stout.  Obviously the most noticeable aroma is the coffee which presents hints of blackberry, campfire, and what seems to me like a dark roasted Sumatra bean from my limited coffee experience.  The burnt grains hit you next as they bring huge bitter chocolate and licorice aromas to the mix.  There is an oak or woody dimension to the smell, but for the most part the Bourbon and Brandy notes get enveloped by the malt and coffee.  I think the vanilla, caramel, and dark fruit notes helped to round out or smooth over the harsher aromas.  In the end the nose on this beer was masterfully done.  All the components blended together perfectly with a little abv warmth.

I drank this beer at cellar temp as to get the most out of the coffee and grain ingredients.  At too cold of temps you do not get a good head on the pour and you diminish the flavors.  That being said this beer is astringent and dry.  Earthy, woody tannins take their cue from the barrel aging and leave you with a good finish that is semi-sweet, chocolaty, and has loads of coffee.  The hops used are spicy and earthy, the grains and coffee are astringent, and the barrel aging added dryness.  This means that from the beginning of each sip expect your palate to be searching for some form of hydration.  Up front a light bubbly blend of highly roasted grains and hops greet you.  In the middle of the sip I started to get more of the coffee character, but not before the vanilla and caramel notes from the Bourbon and Brandy kicked in (and not in a harsh way).  The finish is like a cup of Joe which left me asking, “did I just have spiked coffee?”  As the beer moved from front to back it left as trail of astringent bitter grains and coffee in its wake.

The mouthfeel is moderate, but not as heavy as I was expecting.  There was a slick/oily texture to it which I attribute to the coffee and oats.  As it warmed the abv stared to showcase itself becoming a little overbearing.  Compared to Great Divides Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti I’d say it comes a shade under.  I’m thinking that there is just a bit too much coffee and it could have been aged a little longer.  In the end, this rare bird is still a yummy, quality treat that has some huge flavor.  While is good right away, I might recommend laying this down for 6 months to a year.