Creme Brulee for the budget-conscious

By Emily Brightman

Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian
Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian

There are few luxuries in life quite like a good dessert. Plenty can be said for the artistry of preparing an entree, but there is a certain exquisite craft to concocting a good confectionary course that is lacking in the assembly of more substantial meals. Separate dessert menus in restaurants and the prominence of culinary concentrations in the preparation of the “sweet course” indicate the high esteem such dishes are held in, and, for the right incarnation of dessert, anyone can develop a sweet tooth.

Fanciful praise aside, creme brulee is one of those storied desserts that herald a certain air of sophistication in the right context. A rich custard dish served with a top layer of hard-crusted caramel – sometimes theatrically toasted with the hot flame of a blowtorch – this dessert of early French origin makes use of the strong flavors of vanilla in its composition, and is something of a staple of higher-end dining. Though its refined status implies a certain necessity of financial means to partake in, the Southern Tier Brewing Company has made this delicacy once reserved for the fine-dining elite available to the masses with their Creme Brulee Stout.

Southern Tier Brewing, based in Lakewood, N.Y., has a history of churning out some powerfully delicious seasonal and year-round beers starting in early 2002. According to the brewery’s website, they produce over 90,000 barrels of beer annually and their uniquely crafted brews are available in over 30 states in the United States. While their 2X IPA and 422 Pale Wheat Ale are among the most popular of their year-round selection, their Un-Earthly Imperial IPA is one of my personal favorites in the potent family of imperial IPAs and worth a splurge for any beer drinker looking to have their taste buds crippled by hoppy bitterness.

Creme Brulee Stout, brewed with organic vanilla beans, is part of their “Blackwater Series” of dark beers, which includes the Warlock Imperial Stout and Mokah Imperial Stout blended with chocolate and coffee. Released in February, Creme Brulee is the most recent addition to the series and is described on the label as “a stout of great contention.”

This beer impressed me right off the bat with the strength of its aroma, and from the moment the cap was popped off the 22 oz. bomber bottle, my kitchen was awash in the piquant scent of vanilla blended with caramel above an alcoholic subtext. The nose of this beer only grows stronger when poured into a pint glass, and in fact releases a more potent aroma when swirled around to observe consistency. A foamy tan head tops out at roughly half an inch, settling to a thin bubbly layer of lacing atop a body that is only a few shades off from pitch black. Though the moderate carbonation was initially a jolt, the effervescence of the beer’s body ends up to be a surprisingly refreshing counterpart to the strength of the beer’s taste.

The fragrance of Creme Brulee is suggestive of its sweetness, but in this case aroma is somewhat deceptive. A wave of unanticipated bitterness characterizes the first sip, but is soon mellowed out by a thick sweetness –“cloying” was the word my roommate used to describe the intensity of the sweetness, which is an accurate description, but not in a necessarily unpleasant way. True, the sugary quality is by no means subtle and, at a walloping 10 percent alcohol, there is a definite fierceness in the flavor marriage of alcohol and vanilla. But, despite these relatively overpowering aspects, there is still much to be enjoyed in drinking this beer.

The fullness of the mouth feel coupled with hints of butterscotch in the aftertaste give the distinct impression of drinking a liquid dessert, and a filling one to boot. Though there is some toasted bitterness in the malt present in the aftertaste, the sensation overall is one of a strongly fermented sweetness balanced out by the thickness of the beer’s consistency and perpetuated by the release of carbonation. This beer serves much like a sweet delicacy of its own accord.

I attempt to flesh out my beer reviews with suggested food pairings, but when it comes to the Southern Tier Creme Brulee, I am utterly at a loss as to what to recommend as a complement to this beer, as its taste complexity is impressive enough on its own. The label posits that vanilla ice cream and cheesecake will mesh well with this beer, and while this may be true, there is something to be said for moderation in this case. There comes a point where “too much sweetness” becomes a tangible issue. If you are capable of tempering your palate with a sugary-sweet dessert and an equally sugary-sweet beer, then by all means indulge. But, for those of us who lack a serious sweet tooth, Creme Brulee Stout on its own serves as an equally fanciful interpretation of dessert.

Normally I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, and being a lover of beer, this is especially true in terms of my drinking experimentation. But I say with humility that Creme Brulee lives up to its purported reputation of being a “stout of great contention.” I like to think I have a somewhat experienced palate in terms of beer consumption, but this silver bullet of a stout was almost too intense for my taste. Shock and awe aside, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I disliked it, but it is worth mentioning that Southern Tier has managed to brew a beer that challenged my self-described “obsessive beer geek” tendencies. I’m hardly a wimp when it comes to a strong dark beer, but Creme Brulee undoubtedly humbled me, even if just marginally.

If dessert is your favorite meal of the day but you don’t feel much like going out for ice cream, especially in the final death grip of winter, reach for a bottle of Creme Brulee Stout and indulge your sweet tooth. Just be wary of the high alcohol content or you may find yourself feeling more sick to your stomach than sickly sweet.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]