Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Black Cauldron – Grand Teton Brewing

                The latest Grand Teton Brewing Cellar Reserve beer, Black Cauldron Imperial Stout, released earlier this month, August 15th, in 750ml bottles.  However if you have been keeping up with Grand Teton Brewing over the years, you might recognize Black Cauldron as having previously been a seasonal beer.  So, I thought it was a little strange to see it make the jump to the limited Cellar Reserve release schedule.  I reached out to the Grand Teton Brewmaster, Rob Mullin and he was kind enough to provide the rationale for the move and add a few great insights into other aspects of the brewery, so be sure to check that out below.  Long story short, Black Cauldron is a popular beer that deserved a slightly stronger release 8% (seasonal) to 9.5% (Cellar Reserve) to highlight the aging potential of the beer and show off the love for what has become one of the favorite beers amongst the brewery staff as well.

                 I always look forward to the Cellar Reserve releases, and although it seems too hot to be drinking an Imperial Stout in August, September is right around the corner so it will soon be stout weather again!  There’s a lot I could say about Imperial Stouts and the early brewing traditions that inspired Black Cauldron, but between the original description and the added info from Rob Mullin, it’s pretty much covered.  On with the review!

They Say:

There are few styles of beer more flavorful than Imperial Stout. Our thick, rich version is brewed with plenty of caramel and roasted malts and subtly spiced with Cascade and Super Galena hops. We accentuate the natural smokiness of the brew by adding a small amount of beechwood-smoked malt. At 22.5 degrees starting gravity and 9.5% alcohol by volume, this beer boasts flavors of chocolate and coffee, along with raisins and dried fruit soaked in sherry.

Black Cauldron is a strong ale best enjoyed in moderation. Try pairing it with full-flavored grilled or roasted meats. Rich desserts like chocolate cake, truffles, fruit tarts, caramel flan or crème brûlée are all excellent matches.

We brew our Black Cauldron Imperial Stout to recognize and honor the women in the history of brewing. Brewing has been women's work since the dawn of civilization. In all ancient cultures, beer was a gift from a goddess, and women maintained status and power through their skills as brewsters. This remains true today in indigenous cultures from Asia to Latin America, Africa to remote villages in Scandinavia. Around the world, women bake bread and brew their own beer.

In Europe, the rise of cities brought commercial brewing, as governments realized the potential tax revenue to be had from large breweries. By 1445, the first all-male brewers' guild was established, the campaign against witchcraft burst forth across Europe, and the purge of women from brewing had begun. Beer historian Alan Eames has written that, when an occupation was listed, most of the women burned for witchcraft in Europe were brewsters or alewives.

Most of the imagery we associate with witchcraft today originated with the brewster. The large black cauldron bubbling over with foam? A brew kettle, of course. The black cat? Necessary to keep rats out of the grain store. The tall pointed hat? It allowed the brewster to be seen over the heads of taller men in the marketplace. A broom? The symbol of household domesticity, it is still associated with brewing all over the world.

Without the work of these women through the ages, it's entirely possible beer would not exist today. To learn more about the role of women in today's brewing industry, visit For more on the history of brewing,

With its dark malts, alcohol and unfermented sugars Black Cauldron is ideal for prolonged cellaring. We’ve enjoyed samples aged as long as nine years.

Original Gravity (Plato): 22.5º
International Bitterness Units: 54
Alcohol by Volume: 9.5%
Color (Lovibond): 40.0º

Black Cauldron Imperial Stout will be available August 15, 2015 in 1/2 and 1/6 bbl kegs and bottle-conditioned 750 mL cases.

Brewmaster Rob Mullin adds:

Black Cauldron is definitely one of our favorite beers to brew, and it's become one of our fans' favorites as well, consistently ranking among the best beers we brew. The beer was one of our first Cellar Reserves, and it really belongs in that series. We've tasted Black Cauldron as old as nine years, and found them quite good. Everything about this beer asks for extended cellaring: the tannins from the dark malt, the unfermented sugars and the alcohol all work together to help Black Cauldron age gracefully.

We like this beer so much that we wanted to brew it every year, and several years ago we moved it to the Seasonal Series so we could do that. Then we realized that our packaging was causing confusion for our distributors and customers. We had some hoppy beers in big bottles that were mistakenly cellared, and many didn't realize the Black Cauldron could be aged, since we were putting it into 12 ounce bottles. In order to simplify and rationalize our packaging we decided to put only beers we think truly cellarable into the big bottles, and we moved hoppy beers like Pursuit of Hoppiness and Trout Hop Black IPA into the Seasonal Series (and 12 ounce bottles.)

Our compromise (with ourselves and our fans) is that, unlike the other Cellar Reserves that must wait at least three years before they're brewed again, we'll be releasing Black Cauldron every other year. That way we and our fans can put away enough bottles each time to get through to the next release. In addition, with this year's batch we've increased all those things that make the beer cellarable, including bumping the alcohol from 8 to 9.5% abv. Our guess is this (and future) releases will age even better than past versions.

You might have noticed new label artwork with this release, too. The previous Black Cauldron label, designed by our then-artist Gabby Prouty, was one of my personal favorites. It included two beautiful "brew faeries" or brewsters, and allowed us to tell the very cool story of women in brewing's history. I really like the link between the historical brewster and today's witch imagery. That story is still available on our website.

Beginning with this summer's Sour Grand Saison our current artist, Kathleen Hanson, has been redesigning our Cellar Reserve Labels with her own wonderful original watercolors and updated graphic design, including the removal of our old, iconic oval with barley sheaves. Kathleen struggled, but was unable to find an artful way to keep the brewsters on the label. She amplified the focus on their cauldron, and on the fire-dragon encircling it. That dragon, by the way, references the original inspiration for the beer's name: Black Dragon's Cauldron, a spectacular geothermal feature in the Mud Volcano area of Yellowstone, named for its resemblance to a "demon of the backwoods."

I Say:

                Black Cauldron Imperial Stout pours a deep opaque, pitch black with a thick, creamy dark tan head capped with a few rocky bubbles.  The head holds excellent retention (5+ min) before fading to a slight haze with a thick collar that leaves light lacing being in the glass.  Aromas of charred barley, coffee, milk chocolate, and a subtle smokiness waft off the glass following the pour.  As Black Cauldron warms, notes of plum and sweet alcohols become more prevalent betraying the 9.5% ABV of the beer.  The aroma is pleasant but a little fruitier than many imperial stouts.

                Sweet, smooth caramel maltiness leads in the first sip with notes of dates and raisins. Slight notes of roasted barley, light coffee, and smoked malts round out the sweetness and draw attention to the moderate level of hop bitterness.  Sweet alcohol notes are also present in the flavor, serving as a reminder of the 9.5% strength, but without becoming overwhelming.  Full bodied, Black Cauldron has a smooth maltiness that is always welcome in an imperial stout, and a moderate level of carbonation which helps to break up the viscosity of the beer.

                I really enjoyed this Cellar Reserve release of Black Cauldron, and thought it was an excellent beer.  Oddly though, I had my first bottle of Black Cauldron a few years ago when it was part of the seasonal release schedule, and frankly I don’t think I enjoyed it back then.  My how the years have changed, my palette has developed, and my appreciation for Black Cauldron has grown as well.  The higher ABV is much appreciated and serves the notes of dates and plum excellently.  The slight notes of roasted barley and smoked malt serve are reminiscent of the open wood fires used in the early days of brewing.

                This is a wonderfully enjoyable beer that should age well for years to come, and it is great that it was released in the larger format bottle as opposed to the 12 oz bottles of previous releases.  If you can find this on a shelf, pick up a few bottles one for now and a couple to age!

                That’s all for tonight, check back soon for another review!

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