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Bell’s Signature Stout Hits Most of the Right Notes

January 04, 2018

By Tucker Anders, January 04, 2018

Either moving this year really helped my access to distribution, or the big craft stouts were distributed in more volume than in years past.

Founders’ KBS and CBS, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout, and Bell’s Black Note were all widely available to me in 2017. Waiting in line and calling ahead was replaced with stopping by a few days later and grabbing a couple off the still well stocked shelf.

It has been weeks since CBS, BCBS, and Black Note were released, and I can still buy all three in volume without even having to hit multiple stores. Not bad for a small city in Eastern Kansas.

While Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout and Goose Island’s BCBS were as advertised--boozy, complex and delicious – Bell’s signature stout left me wanting a little more.

Black Note is indeed black in the glass, with a tight brown head that fades away almost as quickly as it formed.

The aroma is fairly straightforward with a good amount of sweet chocolate, roasty coffee and bourbon heat. It smells sweeter and creamier (can you smell creaminess?) than most stouts, probably because of the Double Cream Stout blended in the base beer.

The change in temperature pulls out the bourbon & tobacco flavors while adding a dose of anise.”

The taste follows – but with more complexity. Notes of tobacco, leather, and espresso mix with the creamy chocolate to create excellent depth of flavor. The malty sweetness never gets sticky in the way some stouts do, which I credit to the blending in of the lighter cream stout as well. It is all balanced with hits of wood and bourbon from the barrel and some astringency in the espresso and tobacco flavors.

What puts Black Note in a class of its own in my mind is the feel. Bell’s usually hits the perfect combination of stout and cream stout in each release of Black Note, balancing the punch of flavor with a slightly lighter body – leading to an easier drinking barrel aged stout. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by other great stouts of late, but the 2017 edition feels like this combination of base beers is out of whack.

Black Note 2017 veers too far towards the creamy light side of the spectrum, leaving me hunting for more to chew on with all of its deep flavors. It’s a beer that feels like it is tipping over the scales balancing taste and feel, rather than striking the notes of harmony Bell’s was hoping to hit.

It’s a minor complaint for an otherwise strong offering, though worth noting nonetheless. This lightness does allow me to enjoy the beer more as it warms – a characteristic I don’t always find in heavier stickier stouts. The change in temperature pulls out the bourbon and tobacco flavors while adding a dose of anise to the mix.

Though the experience at the price point ($9 for me) certainly doesn’t leave me disappointed, I’m not sure it justifies excitedly hunting it down either. I enjoyed my 2017 Black Note experience enough to try again next year, and that may be all that matters anyway.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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