My first beer from Witch’s Hat Brewing Company was hiding within a flight at Beer Grotto (Ann Arbor, MI) in May 2016. It got my full attention right away. Andrew Gose Grapefruity, a gose with grapefruit added, revealed a new wonderful fruit-pairing with the slightly salty German-style beer. Witch’s Hat had crafted a beautifully balanced summer refreshment. This past July, I finally made time to visit the brewery and discovered that Andrew Gose Grapefruity was not a one-hit wonder, but that great beers were being made at this unassuming brewery in South Lyon, MI. Saison De Mindo (a saison brewed with miel de cacao, a fermented syrup made from the white fruit that surrounds the cocoa bean) and 1908 (a smoked wheat beer that, at least according to this life-long vegetarian, tasted like meat) impressed me. But Night Fury took my breath away. Imagine an imperial stout with 10.5% ABV brewed with molasses, that’s creamy, heavy, and chocolatey. I can’t say this about a lot of imperial beers, but I would happily drink many of these in a night. You can read SommBeer’s ode to Night Fury here.
This past December, I jumped at the chance to score a bottle of Witch’s Hat Furious Ginger, a bourbon barrel-aged blend of Night Fury and Sweet Lou (their coffee milk stout) enhanced with ginger, cinnamon, and peppers. To better understand how the barrel aging and blending affect the beer, I brought home a crowler of Angry Ginger, a version of Sweet Lou brewed with the same spices (ginger, cinnamon, peppers) found in the Furious Ginger.
One part I am still puzzling over is Furious Ginger’s high ABV, and what this signifies to drinkers about the ratio of Sweet Lou to Night Fury. Sweet Lou is 6.5% ABV and Night Fury is 10.5%, so how does a blend of the two end up at 11% ABV? One possibility is that Witch’s Hat brews higher alcohol versions of one or both beers so that they age better in the bourbon barrels. A second is that the beer increases in alcohol content during barrel aging because the barrels preferentially absorbs water from the beer, or because the beer absorbs residual bourbon from the barrel. Either way, the high ABV suggests that the blend of Sweet Lou and Night Fury is heavy on the Night Fury.
ABV Angry Ginger comes in a 6.5% ABV, which almost makes this an unfair comparison as it is being tested against Furious Ginger’s 11.0%. LOOK Both beers pour the same dark opaque black. The only slight differentiator is that, when held up to light, Angry Ginger shows a slightly lighter ring around the top. Neither beer poured with a head, though the Angry Ginger left more pronounced lacing on the glass as it was consumed. The scent of Furious Ginger hits your nose before you’re even finished analyzing the color; it wants your attention. SMELL When first poured, Furious Ginger’s aroma is pure booze. With time and warmth, the spices temper the alcohol smell, and the bottle label’s promise of a “bourbon soaked gingerbread cookie” comes fully to fruition. After being saturated with Furious Ginger, my nose struggles to identify aromas from Angry Ginger. Faint coffee notes are the best I can do. TASTE With the first taste, Angry Ginger shines as a solid coffee stout, though its milky-ness is more dominant than any of the spices. Some coffee notes do come through, which are not present later in the Furious Ginger. Furious Ginger tastes like Angry Ginger has been cranked up to 11. It hits with a supersoaker blast of malt. The spices announce themselves immediately, particularly the ginger. The back end leaves a spicy bite, courtesy of the peppers. MOUTHFEEL Furious Ginger is heavy, coating your mouth long after you swallow. It also has very little carbonation, contributing to a serious creaminess that gives the impression of drinking pudding. In comparison, the mouthfeel of Angry Ginger lacks follow-through on the promise of powerful flavor made by its dark color. It’s thin, similar to a porter, with fairly typical carbonation. This could also be a consequence of the fact that we are drinking Night Fury from a bottle, while the Angry Ginger is from a crowler. OVERALL Angry Ginger is still a delicious beer for its style. I wish the spices showed through more to fully differentiate itself from its base beer, Sweet Lou. Furious Ginger has the serious sweetness often associated with imperial stouts, but the spicy front and the peppery finish do a good job of bookending the sweetness to slightly tone it down. I suspect that the coffee addition from the Sweet Lou – though not obviously present – is amplifying the chocolate notes, similar to how espresso powder is often added to baked goods to amplify chocolate flavor. Furious Ginger is one that will stick with me for a while.