Baconator - Ship Bottom Brewing
About two months ago, I covered Ship Bottom Brewery - a New Jersey brewery formerly located in Wallingford, PA that now resides in Beach Haven, NJ. I've been following this brewery for quite some time during the transition from one state to the other. One thing is clear with me as far as Ship Bottom is concerned: I never say "no" to their Barnacle Bottom Stout. So it's with much excitement that I review two different years of their "variant" stout - Baconator Stout. I use the term "variant" very loosely because I am unsure as to whether or not this is based on the Barnacle Bottom recipe, but I know that both are brewed with chocolate, oatmeal, coffee, and lots of love.
The bottle on the left is the Baconator Stout brewed in 2015. The designs are pretty similar, minus a subtle change or two, as well as the address where it was brewed and bottled in. The address might have changed, but the goodness within the bottle has the same base of chocolatey awesomeness. One of the things I absolutely love with the Barnacle Bottom Stout is the rich chocolate flavor with the smooth coffee taste to go along with a nice ABV of 8.4%. The Baconator Stout clocks in a bit heavier at 9.4% and is perfect for a 22oz format. I walked into this expecting there to be some variance in flavor due to the address from which it was brewed and bottled, as well as the age difference between one and the other... which means, I'm going to review both.
I commenced this brave experiment with the 2016 version. I wanted a baseline and firm grasp as to what I was getting myself into. Age can do things with flavors in a bottle, so I wanted a more accurate representation of what this beer was before jumping into the 2015. Upon opening the bottle, the very first thing that hit me was a smokey nose to this beer. It wasn't overpowering, but definitely dominant at first. I knew I'd have to pour it since the top of the bottle was definitely pushing that through. Upon pouring, it had a very nice lace at the top and the aromas began to become a bit clearer for me. There was still plenty of smoke as if from smoked/cooked bacon with some bitterness (probably from the coffee). Once you get acclimated to it, the chocolate definitely comes through.
As far as the taste, the smokiness blended in with chocolate is absolutely prevalent. I'm not a fan of smoked beers, but this one was very pleasing to me. Although there is maple syrup, this beer isn't overwhelmingly sweet, and my understanding is that it shouldn't be or else the beer would taste like a mouthful of sugar while smoking a cigar - absolutely NOT what you want. As the beer warms up, the smoke becomes more balanced and the chocolate and coffee taste profile wins out over the other flavors. Win!
The 2015 was the bottle I was eager to see how time might have changed. Now with a solid understanding of what the Baconator Stout was in 2016, I could jump into this with a bit more knowledge. Being as scientific as I possibly could, I placed on my safety goggles and I repeated the same steps in the same order that I did with the 2016. I opened the bottle and got a small sample of the aroma. To my delight, the smoke was there, albeit in a lesser fashion, but more of the chocolate shined through. The beer poured exactly the same way as it did with the 2015. I inhaled another time from the glass and the smoke was a little more present than from the bottle, but the chocolate was definitely at the forefront of everything.
This version's smoky flavor is a little more subtle. I'm not sure if the recipe was less smokier in 2015 or if the time in the bottle made that die down a bit, but the combination with the chocolate was absolutely delicious. The maple syrup's sweetness is a bit more obvious in this one but the coffee isn't as hard-hitting as it was with the 2016. So there's a bit of give and take with both versions. Win either way!
Both versions are definitely enjoyable. If you like stouts, I'd recommend trying the Baconator Stout. Hell, if you like stouts, try the Baconator AND the Barnacle Bottom Stout. Which year of the Baconator did I enjoy more? I'd say I'd give a slight nod to the 2015 just because the smoke was a little less present, but that is more a palate choice than it is a measure of quality. Who knows if by the beginning of 2018, that bottle of 2016 was just as good with some aging? Both were very good and very delectable drinking experiences. What Ship Bottom has created here is an excellent stout overall. I will admit, I had a ton of fun with this whole process of comparing them side by side and getting to jot down the nuances and variances of both. Ultimately, I'd definitely have a 2017 version of this and you should too.