I am the leader of the movement to get Dark Charge Day officially made a national holiday for a couple of simple reasons.  First – I love this beer.  As an open lover of big, roasty, chocolatey stouts – this one is definitely one of the best in the city.  When you pair an incredible beer up with a mind-blowing event… I can’t help but think that it very clearly makes it worthy of holiday-making, right?

I wanted to get a post together, though – not just to remind you that the event is coming up on December 1st at Braxton’s Covington, KY taproom or to let you know exactly what all the releases that you need to line up for are going to be.  I want to take a little dig into this year’s Dark Charge “theme” and give you a little bit of my thinking about why this one is so special.

First… this year’s lineup.

2018 Dark Charge Variants

Part of the fun of Dark Charge is seeing what creative twists the Braxton team put on the Imperial Stout – hand picking flavors that compliment and contrast those present in the already delicious beer – and this year’s are pretty fun!

  • Base Barrel Aged Dark Charge – it’s the original, the OG (except if you count that one release of the non-barrel aged version on year one). The beer is timeless and delicious, aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels (Buffalo Trace)
  • Dark Charge Mandarin – This is an interesting one, in that it isn’t Bourbon Barrel Aged.  The brewery instead tucked this away in some Heaven Hill Rye Whiskey Barrels before adding orange zest and cocoa nibs.
  • Dark Charge Mole – You knew that after this beer won best in show at the Alltech Commonwealth cup last year, it was destined to make a triumphant return, right?  Bourbon Barrel Aged with Ancho chile peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, and cocoa.
  • Dark Charge Pineapple and Poblano – This is this year’s Labs Variant.  They hit the stout with pineapple and smoked poblano peppers to create something unique for you to fawn over.
  • Dark Charge Coffee and Vanilla – Bourbon Barrel aged with coffee and Madagascar vanilla beans.  This is the ‘Builders Variant’ which means that their Kickstarter backer/club voted on the ingredients.  Smooth, roasty and chocoaltely… you’re going to like this one, and I’m curious to see how well it does in the cellar.
  • 1, 2, and 3-year box set – This is the final, surprise variant from the brewery for 2018.  It’s three bottles, one aged for one year, one for two and one for three – tucked away in a beautiful collectible wooden box. Actually… we should dive into this one a little deeper.

1 – 2 – 3 Year Barrel Aged Dark Charge

Forget the beautiful box, and fancy gold silver and bronze labeling and wax dip on each of these – there’s a story behind how these beers even happened in the first place.

For the last couple of years, Dark Charge has entrusted its barrel life to Buffalo Trace Barrels (for the most part).  For the first year, though it was Four Roses Barrels.  While cleaning out and organizing the cellar the brewery literally stumbled across one of those first barrels, still with Dark Charge slumbering away inside.  The idea started taking shape when they realized that they also had some Four Roses Barrels sitting around with 1 year and 2 year Dark Charge inside it… while it’s fun to do a vertical of some big imperial stouts each year as they are released, it’s not often you get to sample a lineup of a beer that has spent such vastly different amounts of time in the barrel.

That’s exactly what this release is all about.  While the first year‘s recipe is slightly different (the three year) the other two are the same (other than a little difference in ABV because of pickup from the barrels).  You can have the unique opportunity to try the beer with one, two and three years of time on wood.  Aside from all the delicious adjuncts – just Dark Charge in all it’s glory.  That’s really what I want to talk about, the base beer.

It’s All About The Base

I love the variant game as much as the next person does.  The s’mores dark charge from last year is still to this day easily my favorite variant that I’ve tried.  The world doesn’t have to always revolve around the big pastry stouts and adjunct filled goodies that we all love, though.  This year is a salute to the flavors that can mimic those adjuncts, yet live naturally in an incredibly crafted beer.  Coffee, chocolate, vanilla… they’re all there, and you don’t have to look very hard to find them.  It is time to take a deeper look back at the beer behind the beers and give it a little bit of respect.

As breweries hit a stride after a few years, it’s easy to look at all their fancy “adjuncts”, be it new packaging, rooftop bars, increased distribution, new taprooms, bigger parking lots.  All these things get us excited as our breweries grow up, and rightfully so, but it’s so important for places like Braxton to take a breath too, and remember their base.  There aren’t many places that have done it better than they do.  Supporting the love their core fans have for lagers, pushing for new innovative things while diving in deep to those core styles that we fell in love with on day one.  It’s an exercise in attention to detail and trusting who you are.

Maybe it’s all part of my lofty impressions of what this whole “craft beer experience” is really about – but this release isn’t just an homage to what makes Dark Charge special.   It’s an homage to what makes a place like Braxton special, too.  After almost four years of being an important piece of an overall Cincinnati beer scene, it’s time to take a deep dive into what makes it all work.  The variants are awesome, but they’ve got a fantastic base behind it all.

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