11/22/20: Braxton Brewing Company's Dark Charge Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Breakfast (2019)

11:30 AM

This post has been a year in the making. I'm excited that I've finally conceived a plan of attack to take it on. See, in the midst of the blog's inaugural Maple Month, Braxton announced their first four 2019 Dark Charge variants. Key among them was blue wax-dipped bottle that caught my eye: Dark Charge Maple Breakfast. I knew, the moment I saw its Instagram announcement post, that I'd need to talk about it here.

There were a few issues with that: First was that Dark Charge Day is in December, the month after Maple Month, but I could deal with that; I'm no stranger to aging bottles. The second issue was that I knew the BBA Maple Breakfast bottles would be limited and I needed to ensure I got my hands on one. Again, this wasn't a big deal since I was lucky to have the fifth Dark Charge Day off (it was the first time since Braxton stated hosting it that I didn't have work on the first Saturday in December). Easy.

Limited as in 1,200 existent bottles. This is bottle number 555.

The biggest hurdle, however, and the one that's been intimidating me is the beer itself. I have, for your reading pleasure today, a bomber of Dark Charge Maple Breakfast. That's 1 pint and 6 fluid ounces of a 13% ABV Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, which is a lot for one guy to take on for a blog post (especially when that same guy has to do a few more chores today).

Here's how I figured that third issue out: I'll drink some of the bottle now, to write about, while the rest'll be poured into a growler for me to nurse over the remainder of the day and over the next day or so, as needed. I really want to take my time with this, you know?

Now, with all of that out of the way, let's get to it. Here's something exceedingly special: Braxton's Dark Charge Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Breakfast.

Let's talk a bit about Braxton before we get into the beer at hand. It was founded by Evan Rouse, who, as a teenager, built a homebrew setup in his garage. Evan's an innovator, and brings that spirit to Braxton, where the garage--a place where people congregate and create--is an extraordinary space. Here's the brewery's "Our Story" page if you want to read more on the people behind today's beer.

However, if you just want to get to reading about today's beer, well, I have you covered. Dark Charge is a celebration of Kentucky, specifically the City of Covington. The name comes from Kentucky coal, which was carried about on the Ohio River, which forms Covington's northern border. The beer's also an homage to Kentucky bourbon: Each variant of it has spent some time in bourbon barrels. This information is cobbled together from what's printed on my bottle's label (see the image below), what I've read online of Dark Charge, and the physical marketing I remember from last year's Dark Charge Day.

Dark Charge Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Breakfast (Maple Breakfast henceforth) still has a presence on Braxton's blog, in a post entitled "Dark Charge Year 5 Variants Revealed!" That's where we'll get our info about it. Like I said, it's a 13% ABV BBA Imperial Stout. Featuring maple, vanilla, cocoa, and coffee, the stout boasts coffee aromatics that are balanced by the other adjuncts.

Now, the time's finally come. Let's cut away that blue wax and get into the beer. And, because this is a wax-dipped bottle, I'll be observing a blog rule and pouring it into a glass (my fifth anniversary Dark Charge Day tasting glass, to be precise).

This nose is all maple and coffee on the fore. There's a roasty smokiness here, which, when paired with the oakiness that comes through, is reminiscent of a camping pancake breakfast with strong coffee, the kind where the cakes are made over a bonfire. The vanilla, which is always one of Michelle's secret pancake ingredients, comes into play on a return waft, as does the cocoa. So, let's say they're chocolate chip pancakes. The only part of the bouquet that doesn't immediately fit this analogy I've conjured up is the bourbon booze, which is strong. This smells every bit of that 13% ABV. Purrl, who had to content herself with getting her impression of Maple Breakfast from the beer in bottle, likes it so much that she gave it fourteen whiffs. Her and I are equally smitten with the stout's aromatics.

After my first sip of the stout, I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised: That booze I get strongly on the nose is a nearly absent flavor. Really, it only crops up in the finish as a warming sensation. Maple Breakfast is just a mellow blend of coffee and maple, with some vanilla, oak, chocolate, and plum to help keep everything in balance. The roasted malts do an admirable job of tempering (with no small help from the coffee and cocoa, to be sure) the beer, keeping it from being any sweeter than is pleasant. And, if nothing else, this stout is a pleasant beer. But it's definitely so much more than that.

This is a velvety smooth stout. Big, robust, and filling, yet smooth as all get out. Whenever I have an imperial stout, this is the exact mouthfeel I hope it has. Too few pull it off with the aplomb Braxton does with this variant.

Since we're here, and I have my beer in a glass, let's talk about how Maple Breakfast looks. The head from my first pour (as seen in the photo at the top of this post) is a quarter-finger thick line of intricately laced bubbles. The beer itself the color of used motor oil, nearing coal blackness. Fitting for Dark Charge.

I went to last year's Dark Charge Day with my dad and my father-in-law. To my knowledge, it was my dad's second big beer event and my FIL's first. We got there well before Braxton opened their doors and people were allowed into the heated tents that had been set up in front of the brewery, yet we we so far toward the back of the line that we were down the block and around the corner from the brewery. 

Still, we all really enjoyed the day. Good beer, axe-throwing, and food made with the good beer--it was a hell of a party. We got to try all of the Dark Charge variants Braxton had crafted (I'd only ever had a Dark Charge variant on tap at Braxton Labs once before that day). The agreed-upon favorites were Maple Breakfast, Luxardo Cherries and Citrus, and The Cakeshop's German Chocolate.

This year, per the official website, COVID-19's changing how Dark Charge Day will work. The event'll be spread out across all of Braxton's locations: Covington, Bellevue, and Fort Mitchell, KY, as well here in Cincinnati, OH. Bottle preorders are done online and, although I've missed out on these so far, I have my eyes on the Double Barrel Peach Brandy, which is set to drop on Monday. Hopefully you'll see that here in some future post.

I couldn't imagine closing the blog's second Maple Month with any beer other than this. I knew, as soon I saw it was releasing, that this was going to be one for the John Likes Beer history books. I was dead-on with that hunch. Braxton's Dark Charge Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Breakfast is a 10/10 beer. I usually consider that rating to signal my highest recommendation. That hold true here, absolutely, but Maple Breakfast goes beyond that level. This is, in my eyes, a perfect stout.

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