Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Kalamazoo Stout

Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Galesburg, MI

Style: Stout
ABV: 6.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

First of all, I’d like to share with all of you my infinite knowledge about the great city of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

It’s in Kalamazoo County, which is in the southwestern portion of the state. It’s home to the Broncos of Western Michigan University (surprisingly, WMU is one of the larger public universities in the country). It starts with a “K.” It’s fun to say. It has a “z” in it. It ends in “zoo”, which reminds me of many a trip to the local zoo to see the giraffes, monkeys, penguins, and poisonous snakes. It’s near Grand Rapids, home of the AHL’s Golden Griffins (Nigel knows this because he’s a hockey fan and attends many Milwaukee Admirals games). It’s near Battle Creek, home of Kellogg’s and Tony the Tiger. It’s not far from the Indiana border and therefore dangerously close to the overrated football university in South Bend that’s commonly referred to as Notre Dame. Most importantly, it’s home to one of the Midwest’s finest brewers, Bell’s.

I was inspired to do this review for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I’ve long wanted to try Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout, which I’ve heard nothing but raves about. I bought a six-pack back in December and it’s been waiting patiently in storage since then. With winter hopefully coming to a close, I figured there’s no time like the present to give it a shot. Also, a recent poll here at rated Bell’s as the top brewery in the Midwest, something that I don’t totally agree with (I had them second), though I’m not terribly disappointed about (at least Leinenkugel’s or some other shit brewer didn’t grab the top spot). Despite my full-fledged support for Grand Rapids-based Founders (a review of which will be coming soon), I can’t argue with Larry Bell and crew being placed in the top spot. Bell’s has done an amazing job over the years of creating a diverse lineup of incredibly tasty brews and they led the way in establishing the Midwest as one of the hubs of the American craft beer movement.

One thing I’ve noticed about Bell’s is that they’ve developed such a large following that it seems like anything they put out will be lauded by the craft beer masses. I’m not trying to criticize … again, Larry Bell and crew have done enough over the years to earn this superb reputation. However, I wasn’t too terribly optimistic that Kalamazoo Stout would live up to the incredibly lofty expectations.

I was wrong.

This is without question one of the best stouts I’ve ever had, and it’s easily the best traditional stout I’ve ever had (that would exclude Russian imperials, though Kalamazoo would give even the most powerful Russian a run for their money, including Comrade Putin).

Kalamazoo Stout pours with a surprising amount of foamy head, though it quickly settles into a nice creamy lace that lingers throughout the drink. Like any fine stout, it’s a deep black hue that captures any bit of light that tries to penetrate it. While it’s too dark to notice any sedimentation in the glass, there’s a nice yeasty ring at the bottom of the bottle that would indicate that this is bottle conditioned like all fine craft brews should be. All in all, it’s a fine looking stout in the glass.

The aroma is very nice, though doesn’t completely forebode the taste sensation that is about to ensue. Initial aromas of roasted malt and chocolate hit the nostrils, followed by a nice sugary sweetness of molasses and licorice. Bell’s claims this is a “stout brewed with brewers licorice”; I’m not sure what “brewers licorice” is, but you can detect the distinctive bite of black licorice in the aroma. Dark fruits also penetrate the nostrils, mostly raisin and fig, as well as a nice earthy backbone. Minor coffee notes also come through at times, though that may be due to the fact that I drank an entire 12 cup pot of coffee today (Nigel is gearing up for March Madness) and my entire townhouse smells like freshly brewed Alterra coffee. The aroma is equally sweet and nutty, which may be why some people consider this a “milk,” or “sweet” stout (I disagree).

The taste is just plain phenomenal. I’ve never described a flavor like this since it’s completely contradictory, but it’s both mild and complex (it’s kind of the beer equivalent of being a conservative liberal). There’s a plethora of incredible flavors present, but they’re all subdued enough to make this one of the most balanced brews you’ll ever try. Initial semi-sweet chocolate flavors dance carefully with roasted nuttiness and mild coffee, making malt the star of the show. Sweet sugary malt flavors, mainly molasses and caramel, are also present as is dark fruit in the form of plum and fig. I don’t totally know how to describe it; perhaps it’s part honey roasted peanut (sweet, roasty, and nutty) and part milk chocolate (a liquid Hershey bar, if you will). You can drink it for hours, and each sip reveals different flavors of sugar, coffee, smoke, nuts, roast, chocolate, dark fruit, bread … shit, there’s probably some maple syrup, bacon, and oatmeal in there too, making it an integral part of a well balanced breakfast; who the hell knows. It’s just an amazing flavor that anybody who loves dark beer should sample. Although it’s dark and heavy as a fine stout should be, Kalamazoo goes down remarkably smooth with a mild aftertaste that leaves you craving for more. A relatively mild ABV (6.5 percent) makes this a potential session brew, and I can say for a fact that it’s a hard brew to put down (Nigel’s on his third and ready to go for broke and finish off the sixer, something I rarely do but am finding hard to avoid this time).

Wow. I hope I’ve been able to give an accurate depiction as to how tasty Kalamazoo Stout is, but it’s one of those beers you just have to try … I cannot do it justice in this short space. Get out there and grab a six pack before the weather turns warm, as this is best enjoyed during the annual Midwestern chill. The complex flavors will both warm and soothe you, and I guarantee that any beer dork, regardless of style preference, will find some aspect of Kalamazoo Stout to their liking. While sampling this previously wouldn’t have elevated Bell’s past Founders in Nigel’s Power Rankings, it is further proof that the dorks know their beer and Bell’s is certainly deserved of the top spot.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on March 17, 2008.
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