Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Plead the 5th Imperial Stout

Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Marshall, MI

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 12.0%

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

Mark McGwire, take note …

As a huge sports fan, Nigel has some favorites. I love college basketball, college and pro football, hockey (but not the NHL, which lost me forever when they cancelled a season a few years back), PGA golf, and, especially this time of year, Major League Baseball. I live in Milwaukee, and yes, I’m a diehard Brewer fan (hard to admit at this point). But, alas, although I have my rooting interests, I’m not confined to just one team. If it’s February and there’s college hoops on, I’m watching. Seton Hall vs. Rutgers? I’m in. Same with baseball. My Brewers squandered away a once hopeful season weeks ago with pathetic pitching, but my interest in the sport lives on. Rockies vs. Rangers in the World Series? Hell yeah, I’m one of the six people still watching.

Though I love the sport of baseball, I’m one of millions of fans who is disillusioned, disgruntled, and downright pissed off that the entire era of the 1990s and early 2000s was tainted by cheaters. HGH, steroids, amphetamines, you name it … overpaid, pampered athletes that wanted to find an easy way to gain a competitive advantage and in turn, tainted America’s pastime forever. Among the worst offenders were the players in the “Great Home Run Race” of 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Both of them captured the hearts of Americans during the summer of ’98. Both of them hit lots of home runs. Both of them, along with hundreds of other players during the same era, including bogus “home run king” Barry Bonds, cheated. It’s a tainted era that I think will eventually lead to a series of asterisks, as in “he did this, BUT …” If Roger Maris’ legitimate single season home run record of 61 in 1961 received an asterisk simply because his season was a few games longer than Babe Ruth’s, then guys who knowingly cheated to gain an advantage should receive an asterisk the size of Kazakhstan.

And that, in a very indirect way, leads me to my latest review. Dark Horse Brewing Co.’s Plead the 5th Imperial Stout reminds me of what Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and company should have done when summoned before the United States Congress in 2006. Plead the 5th, brothers. You cheated, you know you did, and you flat out lied to the American people while under oath before Congress. I will always remember Palmeiro, who a couple of months later failed a drug test and was suspended, slamming his fist on the witness table, saying “I never, in my life, have done steroids.” Hard to imagine why a fat guy that used to hit for average ended up with over 500 home runs for his career. Then there were McGwire’s awkward statements about how he “didn’t want to talk about the past” when asked direct questions about his drug use. Not to be outdone, Sosa suddenly forgot how to speak English. A guy who did thousands of interviews in very fluent English over the previous decade suddenly “no comprende … beisbol has been very, very good to me.” Only a complete imbecile would get up before Congress and lie when everyone knew full well they were lying. Pathetic.

While the bloated stars of the 1990s may not know how to plead the 5th, Dark Horse does. Plead the 5th Imperial Stout is the culmination of a five-part series of special edition stouts, including One Oatmeal Stout, Too Cream Stout, Tres Blueberry Stout, and Fore Smoked Stout. Save for Tres, which I have yet to sample, I’ve been impressed with all thus far. To cap off a line of stouts with the mother of all stouts, the Russian imperial, is perfect, and I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while.

Plead the 5th pours like a stout, since it’s a stout. A head of about one fifth of one millimeter (in reality, it was about a half inch after a powerful pour) instantly dissipates, leaving a slight tan lace at the top throughout and some stickiness on the sides. As you’d expect, it’s a vortex of light … black as night, with a touch of sediment present through the condensation building on the glass during a humid summer eve.

Aromas are pleasant and potent, a harbinger of the tasty treat to come. Roasted malt notes dominate, with chocolate being the go-to smell. Other notes are of dark sugar (molasses and toffee), dark fruit (plum, raisin, etc.), and alcohol (sort of a rum-like aroma, as it’s a sugary booze). It’s an earthy aroma as you’d expect given the fact that malt dominates, but many of the elements, namely the roasted nuttiness, chocolate, and dark sugars, are amped up to the extreme, making this an aromatic behemoth. If you like to waft your beer, this is right up your alley.

The taste is as potent and pleasant as the aroma, and Plead the 5th quickly cements itself as a five mugger. The roasted profile present in the aroma becomes more distinctive in the flavor, as all the key players make their presence felt at some point: roasted barley, chocolate, coffee, nuttiness, and bread. The sugars quickly follow, giving it a tongue-curling element that is always nice in an imperial stout; here we have toffee, dark brown sugar, and molasses. The dark fruit profile helps lighten the otherwise uber-thick mood, with the occasional zip of raisin, plum, and even hints of banana. Despite checking in at a monstrous 12 percent ABV and having a noticeable presence of alcohol in the nose, the flavor lacks too much in the way of alcoholic bite, though you do occasionally get a slight rummy hint. All imperial stouts should be complex … much like a barley wine, that’s the point. Plead the 5th is right in line with that, as it’s extremely powerful and complex, but fortunately maintains enough balance and doesn’t overwhelm. Full bodied, Plead the 5th goes down relatively smooth though it does coat the palate and leaves a noticeable aftertaste.

Nigel will plead the 5th when asked if he drank more than one during the evening. Regardless of how tasty it is, however, two of these over the course of an evening is more than enough to satisfy, and the buzz you’ll likely feel will surely help you appreciate the fine brew you just partook in. Plead the 5th is truly the icing on the cake for Dark Horse’s five stout line, and it ranks right up there with some of the best I’ve ever had. Pick it up for sure, as any beer this fine is definitely worth a sample.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on August 26, 2009.
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