Saugatuck Neapolitan Stout
(And all of it’s variants)
Saugatuck Brewing Company
STYLE: Milk Stout
ABV: 6% / 6.1% / 10.5%
4.25 / 3.8 / 4.6
Look: 4.0 / 4.0 / 4.0 | Smell: 4.25 / 3.5 / 5.0 | Taste: 4.75 / 4.25 / 5.0 | Feel: 4.0 / 3.5 / 4.5 | Overall: 4.25 / 3.8 / 4.6
Before I Begin
Phew! It has truly been awhile. Apologies for the long absence. Aly and I have been doing a great deal of travel lately and also working on house projects. During all of this, I’ve been drinking a ton of beer and gathering a whole cellar of things I can’t wait to share with you all. However, now that the traveling and projects are finally starting to slow down, my plan is to hit this series much harder than I have been. My goal is to try and do a Brew Review a week for the rest of the year and eventually start a series where I tackle one specific style, much like my pumpkin beer series. For you faithful readers, I promise there is much in store at Beard + Bloom.
About this Brew Review
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will probably realize that I have yet to do a Brew Review quite like this one. Rather than drink each of these brews and review each separately, I decided I would drink all three bottles and compare each of them to their variants. My thinking was that there’s a lot of similarities between each of these beers and that separate posts would probably sound a touch redundant. Besides, any good variant of a beer will have qualities reminiscent of the base brew and it is probably best to do it all in on go rather than space it out over several weeks or months.
Before I launch into the reviews I simply wanted to state that I’m a pretty big fan of each of these brews and would definitely never pass up an opportunity to drink one. Seriously. If you see any of these on the shelf in your area, don’t hesitate picking them up. You won’t regret it. But since I was comparing each of them in one sitting, I have felt the need to try and declare a winner in each of the review subsections. What this means is that I will try to figure out which brew has the best look, smell, taste, and feel. By no means is this a commentary on any area a particular brew is lacking. Rather, it is subjective to my personal preference with the aging process that separates each beer from one another.
Lastly, I just wanted to take a moment and simply say that I’m so incredibly appreciative of yet another member of Pour Misfits that shared their wealth with me and offered to sell a bottle of the Imperial BA Neapolitan. These never hit distribution in our area, were only available at the brewery, and are becoming increasingly more difficult to find through trades or to purchase. She offered me the bottle at cost and, for that, I’m truly thankful.
Brewery at a Glance
I first discovered Saugatuck Brewing Company by drinking the regular version of the Neapolitan Milk Stout that I’m reviewing for this blog. A friend of mine went to one of my favorite local pubs and got himself a glass. He sent me an excited text message that it was, quite possibly, his favorite stout. I went a few days later, ordered a glass, and totally understood his excitement. Ice cream in a bottle? Yes, please! Since then, I’ve tried a few of Saugutuck’s other offerings and have really enjoyed their willingness to experiment. Eventually, I’d love to get up to the brewery to see what they have to offer that may be brewery exclusive. If it any of it is as good as their Imperial Barrel Aged Neapolitan, I need to try it.
Abbreviation Key: In order to keep word count down and make it easier to read, I’ve decided to abbreviate each of the brews. You’ll find the list below.
- Neo – Regular Neapolitan Stout
- BA Neo – Barrel Aged Neapolitan Stout
- BA Imp. Neo – Imperial Barrel Aged Neapolitan Stout (aged in Buffalo Trace barrels)
All three beers were poured into snifters and were very similar in appearance. The brew pours a chocolaty, somewhat transparent, brown with minimal carbonation. But despite this, with all three lined up next to one another I was easily able to identify each of the brews on appearance alone. The regular Neo pours with little carbonation and the tan foam dissipates quickly when decanted into a glass. After first sip, the foam quickly disappeared and never reappeared through the remainder of the tasting. The BA Neo, on the other hand, has much more carbonation and the tan foam sticks to the glass as it was emptied resulting in a nice looking lacing left on the empty glass. I can’t be sure if the barrel aging process adds more carbonation or why exactly this one is definitely more carbed than the other two. Lastly, the BA Imp. Neo is almost completely without carbonation and has a syrupy consistency reminiscent of maple syrup. It left no lacing on the glass as it was emptied but remained sticky on the glass through the finish.
Look Winner: A tie! I’d say that each of these brews is pretty similar in appearance from the bottle and poured in a glass. The labeling is consistent with one another with just enough of a distinguishing feature that you would be able to tell them apart on the shelf.
Neo: I’ve always been a fan of the regular Neo’s smell. It advertises exactly what is on the bottle, three scoops in every sip, and it’s taste truly does carry over to scent. I’ve always thought this brew had a lot going for it on the nose. I get rich chocolate, slight hints of coffee, vanilla, and just a whiff of strawberries. Interestingly, I’ve also always smelled the unique ice cream sweetness that can only be described as the milky, sugary sweetness when opening a fresh batch of ice cream. This is probably coming through due to the lactose sugar being used to sweeten the brew. With as sweet as it is, it doesn’t smell the least bit artificial or chemical, which I think occasionally comes off in cheaper ice cream flavors.
BA Neo: All earthy wood and bourbon on the nose. The sweetness of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberries are almost completely absent on the nose but linger deep behind the big, bold scent of the barrel aging. As it warmed, some of wood and bourbon fell off and I started to get that lactose sweetness that I’ve come to expect with regular Neapolitan. When I had Aly sample all three and had her pick her favorites, I asked her about smell. In her usual frankness when it comes to beer tasting, she simply said that the BA Neo “stinks”. While I disagree with her bluntness, I will say that the smell on this one isn’t nearly as inviting as the other two brews.
BA Imp. Neo: This is pretty divine on the nose. If you are a fan of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, you will instantly recognize the sweetness of that bourbon mixed with the subtle scent of chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and strawberries. Deeper sniffs as it warms wafts rich oak and earthy wood scents with the Neo’s trademark sweetness. The bourbon barrel aging on this one truly comes out on the nose and carries overly nicely in the taste.
Smell Winner: BA Imp. Neo is the clear winner here. The sweet bourbon nose on this one mixed with the trademark Neo promise of chocolate, coffee, vanilla, strawberries, and lactose is simply amazing. It is truly an argument is more of a good thing is always a good thing.
Neo: Hits with dark chocolate and hints of coffee that ease into an earthy vanilla with a very subtle kiss of strawberry sweetness at the end. I think this brew is greatly benefited by the use of lactose sugar to carry the chocolate flavor throughout the taste while also balancing the vanilla on the chocolate backbone. The strawberry sweetness at the finish has always mystified me. I’ve had this thing ice cold and warmed to nearly room temperature. Yet weirdly, I cannot begin to figure out what brings out that strawberry sweetness. I used to think it was more present when it warmed but, when I’ve had it much colder recently, I picked it up fairly early on in the glass and it seemed to disappear as I neared the bottom. Regardless, I think the understated use of the strawberry flavor truly adds to the overall taste of this one. Too much strawberry and you’ve got yourself an overwhelmingly sweet brew.
BA Neo: Woody bourbon flavor starts the BA Neo’s taste. The rich chocolate flavor is still front and center while the vanilla is a little more subtle than the regular Neo. The lactose sugar usage here comes across as a caramelized sweetness that mostly helps take the edge off the woody bourbon flavor. In this one, the strawberry flavor is almost entirely absent. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. In it’s place is a syrupy bourbon sweetness which only intensifies as the brew warms. It is probably my least favorite out of the three only because I think that the heat of the barrel aging distracts from the sweet flavors in the regular Neo. I’d be curious to see how much it settled after aging a bottle for six months and wonder if more of the base beer would shine through with only slight hints of boubon. In short: If you want your chocolate and vanilla ice cream with a sidecar of bourbon, this is the brew for you.
BA Imp. Neo: My goodness this is good. Syrupy sweet Buffalo Trace Bourbon flavor hits up front which settles into intense strawberry sweetness, rich dark chocolate, and very subtle vanilla. What I love about this one is that the bourbon barrel aging almost acts a fourth component of the three scoop flavor by adding a fourth scoop of bourbon. I also cannot get over just how much this one has a Buffalo Trace Bourbon flavor yet isn’t completely overwhelming. There is virtually no heat in this one and the bourbon mixes seamlessly into the rest of the brew’s trademark flavor. The higher ABV actually helps give the taste a little more of a prolonged flavor on the palate which really helps with the overall sweetness of the brew. For at least twenty minutes after my last sip, I kept tasting BA Imp. Neo and getting hints of each of the four flavors. If you can find a bottle, you absolutely must buy it. The flavor on this one is phenomenal!
Taste Winner: BA Imp. Neo is the clear winner here. The increased ABV helps prolong the taste, all of the base flavors are present, and you get a sweet bourbon flavor throughout the entire taste profile. It is seriously the best of both worlds: booze and ice cream.
Neo: All three brews are pretty similar in terms of mouthfeel with a few notable differences. What struck me the first time I had Neapolitan Milk Stout was how it is actually rather dry. There is a thick viscous feel in your mouth as the three flavors rollover the palate. But once the lactose sugar kicks in, the brew dries quickly on the palate which helps achieve the strawberry and vanilla flavor.
BA Neo: The BA Neo’s major difference is that there is a fair amount of alcohol heat from the barrel aging that could use some time to settle. I had it on draft recently and thought that most of the heat was in check so I’m curious about why the bottle version had such a kick. I’m actually wondering if it should have been a touch colder before I drank it. The other notable difference is how the barrel aging seems to have made this brew slightly more syrupy. It isn’t nearly as dry and sticks around on the palate for quite some time.
BA Imp. Neo: This is very similar to the BA Neo in terms of mouthfeel but doesn’t possess the heat from ABV even though it is a full 4.4 points higher. This one also manages to be even more syrupy than the BA version and I kept tasting the complexity of flavors for nearly 30 minutes after I finished my glass.
Feel Winner: Once again, I’d have to say that BA Imp. Neo is the clear winner. The lack of boozy heat and the incredible prolonged mouthfeel are just hard to ignore.
This may have been the hardest Brew Review I’ve done to date. The richness of all three beers in one sitting is nothing that I would recommend to anyone and probably best shared with a small group of people to avoid the level of drunkeness I achieved as well as the incredible sweetness that was left in my mouth for a few hours after all was said and done. However, I have to say that these are three beers you absolutely must try and will be huge favorites at any beer share, family gathering, or party. The flavors are exactly as advertised and will instantly win over even the most skeptical of beer drinkers. For those in the Midwest, you should have pretty easy access to the regular Neo but may find it incredibly difficult to find its two BA variants. I’m hoping that Saugatuck has realized that their barrel aged experiment worked with one of their best offerings and that we will see more BA Neos in the near future. If they do re-release these, do not think twice about picking up BA Imp. Neo. For now, treat yourself to a regular Neo and tell me what you think.
Have you had this brew? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.