Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
Few breweries hold as dear a place in my heart as Flying Dog Brewery. I remember the first time I discovered their awesome brews, it was the first time I had been to The Lexington in North London and I had only been back in the UK for a couple of weeks since my first jaunt Stateside. I remember the hairs on my arms standing on end when I saw their beer list accompanied by a shining Brooklyn Lager font and after my first pint of said lager I opted for a bottle of Doggie Style Pale Ale. This was of course before places such as The Euston Tap and Cask sprung into being and I can now replicate this feeling of excitement each and every time I step through their doors.
As a fan of both Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman I felt an immediate sentimental attachment to both the brewery and the beer I was drinking. To my memory this is first time I ever took a photo of a bottle of beer and posted it on the Internet which is something I now do regularly much to the joy/annoyance (delete as appropriate) of the people who follow me on Instagram. The bottle of Doggie Style was great, had I the beer drinking experience I do now my palate would have told me this particular bottle was not very fresh but this didn’t matter as it was still the best beer I’d imbibed for a while. I remember visiting the Flying Dog website the next day and reading about their humble beginnings in Aspen, Colorado to them opening their current facility in Frederick, Maryland and their connection with my idol, the late, great Dr. Thompson.
Your authors attempt at a clever juxtaposition
When I went on my second trip out to Colorado I filled my boots with as much Flying Dog as I could find; double IPAs, barrel aged imperial stouts and perhaps the biggest, baddest barley wine I’ve ever tried. When referring to his bottle of Raging Bitch, a Belgian style IPA and to this day one of my absolute favourite beers my Dad would deliberately forget where he left his drink and constantly repeat to himself ‘where’s my bitch?’ much to his own amusement. The bond that I share with this brewery is one of the many catalysts that caused me to start writing about beer and five months since I decided to start my very own ‘Gonzo’ beer blog it’s time to write a few thoughts about one of their more extreme beers, Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout.
In general I’m not overly fond of over complicating something by adding too many flavours, in fact I’m fond of the old adage ‘less is more’. I really love coffee and I really love stout but often I fail to see the benefit of mixing them both together, as an example I can’t stand Mocha’s because as much as I love coffee and chocolate mixing them together takes away the best bits of both and just tastes too messy. Great imperial stouts such as Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout achieve strong notes of coffee and dark chocolate as well as red berries and licorice without any of these ingredients being added to the brew. So with this in mind I was approaching Kujo with necessary caution, although I’ve enjoyed coffee infused beers such as Summer Wine Barista in the past I’ve always felt that the infusion of coffee beans takes something great away from the taste of the beer itself.
You know you are in for a big beer when it (well, bar a slight change for copyright reasons) takes its name from a murderous hound that is central to a Stephen King horror novel. Make no mistake, Kujo is a huge beer and pours with a colour of impenetrable black, producing a thin tan head that soon dissipates. The nose gives off two unmistakable, huge aromas, the first is of the coffee from the beans used in the brew, a huge hit of rich espresso which is followed by a massive boozy hit of bourbon with Kujo wearing its 8.9% ABV proudly on it’s sleeve.
Taking my first sip I notice that although Kujo is rich and syrupy it’s not quite as viscous as other imperial stouts I’ve had, in fact sharing the more drinkable qualities of a porter rather than a stout. Although the coffee leads the way it is superbly balanced with rich malt flavours of caramel and vanilla and a massive hit of warming alcohol. Imagine if you will, taking a bottle of your favourite stout and then adding a spoonful of ground coffee followed by a shot of Makers Mark, that gives you some idea of what Kujo has in store for you, in fact I think I just invented a new beer cocktail, you can have that one for free. After this beer has finished pummeling your senses you notice that the finish is surprisingly quick, fresh and dry (for an imperial stout anyway) with a floral almost raspberry like flavour coming from the bittering hops. Although the taste of booze lingers in your mouth you can’t help but be impressed with the way the hops are used to round off the edges of this seriously impressive beer.
There is no denying that this beer is an enormous assault on your palate almost verging on sensory overload but the brewers at Flying Dog have skillfully balanced these flavours and have produced one fantastically fearsome stout. I only bought myself one bottle of Kujo because although I’m a massive fan of Flying Dog and endeavour to try as much of their output as I can I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it, now I’m ruing the day and the lack of funds in my bank account. The other great thing about Kujo is the unmistakable buzz you get from the caffeine making this the perfect mid session beer, that is if you want to crank your evening up a notch, BAM.