Brooklyn Brewery's Black Ops: Way better than a covert foreign coup

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Check it out. I put some scenery in the picture.
  • Check it out. I put some scenery in the picture.
Brooklyn Brewery goes all-in on a gimmick with their Black Ops barrel-aged stout. "Brooklyn Black Ops does not exist," reads the label. "However, if it did exist, it would be a robust stout concocted by the Brooklyn brewing team under cover of secrecy and hidden from everyone else at the brewery. Supposedly 'Black Ops' was aged for four months in bourbon barrels, bottled flat, and re-fermented with Champagne yeast, creating big chocolate and coffee flavors with a rich underpinning of vanilla-like oak notes. They say there are only 1,000 cases. We have no idea what they’re talking about."

And sure enough, Black Ops is nowhere in evidence on the "Beers" section of Brooklyn's website—though when you visit the "Big Bottles" page, there's a conspicuous space at the right end of the lineup where it clearly belongs.

Chicagoans could be forgiven for suspecting that Black Ops doesn't exist, given that a release of just 1,000 cases means nobody outside New York is gonna see much of it—I lucked into the last bottle at the Binny's in River North on Thursday. In years past I'm pretty sure I've seen the beer at Whole Foods (at least at the big store on Kingsbury), but I'd call before making a trip just to find it.

Black Ops has been released every winter since 2008, and the alcohol content has varied slightly every year; the 2012 batch is 10.5 percent, the least strong so far by a hair. (Somewhere in my fridge I've got a 2011 bottle, which weighs in at 10.7 percent, but if I opened two of these by myself I'd either waste a lot of expensive beer or end up unconscious in the bathtub.)

I expected Black Ops to be fizzy, since its refermented in the bottle with champagne yeast, but I fucked up the pour anyway.
  • I expected Black Ops to be fizzy, since it's refermented in the bottle with champagne yeast, but I fucked up the pour anyway.

As you might imagine, Black Ops smells powerfully of bourbon—you'll be able to pick that up as soon as the cork comes out. Once you can get your face over a glass of the stuff, the whiskey is followed by baker's chocolate, oak, vanilla, toffee, a bit of cordial cherry, leather, juniper, and dark rye sourdough bread.

Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout, widely considered the ur-example of the style, is so rich and thick I'm pretty sure you could lubricate a bike chain with it. Black Ops is substantial but not syrupy; excepting the fluffiness from its generous carbonation and the lack of alcohol heat, it feels almost like sipping at some fine brown liquor, both in its texture and in the way it seems to leave behind clinging aromatic oils.

The taste follows the aroma, unsurprisingly, but several flavors come forward that weren't present in the nose: unsweetened black licorice, a touch of molasses, and bright citrusy espresso coffee. The subtle fruity finish, maybe from the yeast, reminds me of a dry plum wine. But the bourbon shows up first and hangs around longer than anything else.

Black Ops is satisfyingly complex, but far less desserty than BCBS. In fact it's lighter and less palate fatiguing than any barrel-aged imperial stout I've had (though "light" is definitely a relative term here). I don't know how you'd feel about paying $21 or more for a single bottle, but if you enjoy powerful stouts I reckon it's worth a try.

Now Im just entertaining myself.
  • Now I'm just entertaining myself.

For the metal portion of this Beer and Metal post, I thought about riffing on "black" or "blackness," but clearly that wouldn't narrow things down enough. I decided to run with the idea of "black ops" instead—secret and unaccountable military operations that reliably provide fodder for conspiracy theorists.

"The Demon's Name Is Surveillance," from the 2012 Meshuggah album Koloss, is an obvious choice. But I've got another reason to mention the band: I wrote about them last spring, when they first toured the States in support of Koloss, and they're coming back to the House of Blues on Fri 2/22 with Intronaut and Animals as Leaders. Let me know if you're going! I'll be there with bells on. Um, metal bells.

Chicago black-metal troublemakers Nachtmystium called last year's LP Silencing Machine, and this is the title track. Appropriately sinister, no?

The Melvins tune "Evil New War God," from 2010's The Bride Screamed Murder, sounds only marginally evil thanks to the silly drum breaks toward the end. But the title fits my theme well enough. Also, the Melvins. Discussion over.

Lastly, here's "Escape From the Prison Planet," from Clutch's 1995 self-titled album. Neil Fallon is great at writing lyrics that sound like the interior monologues of paranoid weirdos who live in bunkers full of Spam and ammunition and regularly call Coast to Coast AM, and this song is one of the best examples.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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