Sometimes, the text on a can is enough to pique my attention to the point that I know I’ll be writing a beer review. It’s all about novelty, of course. When I get a beer in the mail at Paste that says “coffee stout,” I’m likely to give it a try. But when I get one that says “stout with coffee and donuts,” you know that just became Appointment Beer. Donuts? Sign me up.
And that’s what this beer, “Date Night, Bro?” from Big Alice Brewing Co. says on the can. I’d never heard of the brewery, but they’re situated in Queens, NYC and have been open since 2013, so they’ve clearly settled into the neighborhood and the legal requirements of being a “farm brewery” that must use a percentage of barley grown in New York. Where better to make a donut beer? Considering that the best donut I’ve ever had in my life came from NYC, in the form of Peter Pan Donuts in Brooklyn, it seems like a no brainer.
But the obvious question is, what kind of donuts are we talking about here? Just putting “brewed with donuts” on both the can and the website, with no additional public information, is infuriatingly vague. Are we talking about plain old cake donuts with no adornment? Chocolate frosted yeast? Jam-filled, powdered sugar? MAPLE BACON? Who knows? We’ll just have to taste.
On the nose, light coffee roast is apparent, along with a pronounced nuttiness that is unexpectedly reminiscent of peanut butter. It may be that the brewery was trying to make something Nutella-like, but it’s a bit more Reese’s Cup in nature, without being too overtly sweet. There’s another note that is less pleasant; something along the lines of burnt, buttered popcorn and a touch of smoke. All in all, the nose is slightly off.
On the palate is where things sort of derail. The stout is drier than expected for something brewed with desserts in the mash or kettle, and very roast forward. Usually that’s something I can get on board with, as I actually love dry, roasty stouts, but there’s a persistently “burnt,” astringent dimension here that does the beer no favors. Dry, tannic and a bit woody, it’s just too close to “ashes,” without much in the way of balancing residual sugar. And considering that almost anyone picking up a “coffee donut stout” would expect at least moderate sweetness, it’s hard to believe that the beer-drinking audience would be satisfied by this profile. It does have some more of those nutty flavors, which may be donut-derived, but it’s hard to focus on anything past the astringency of roast that may have been driven by either the malt or coffee addition.
All in all, Date Night, Bro? can’t quite live up to the line of text in its description. We have to assume that this is just a misfire from a brewery that has been in business for the last four years; hopefully we’ll have a chance to try some more of their product in the future.
Brewery: Big Alice Brewing
City: Queens, NYC
Style: American stout
Availability: 16 oz. cans
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident craft beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter.