What’s the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? Growing up I had no idea. But on Thanksgiving some orangey mushy “candied” dish with marshmallows and so-called yams would come out of the oven. It was always mushy, very sweet, and unpleasant. At the end of the meal it was hardly touched, except for by my oldest aunt. It was likely some modern invention cooked up on Madison Avenue to sell more confectionary with your vegetables, but each year it was presented faithfully alongside of the canned cranberry and green bean casserole.
Thankfully I’m not subject to candied yams at the Thanksgiving dinner table anymore. And I’m now sure there is no difference between yams and sweet potatoes. It took a while, but I’m at least partial to yams done right. But I’ve realized there’s no better way to get me to enjoy them than by putting yams into an Imperial Stout.
The Bruery has taken their Autumn Maple seasonal and combined it with an Imperial Stout (a style they do a damn good job of brewing) and called it Midnight Autumn Maple. This 9% alcohol by volume beast has been staring at me for weeks from my refrigerator as I waited for the nights to get longer and chillier. Now that Thanksgiving is days away, it was clearly time to pop the crown cap after a small feast to enjoy before friends and family have an opportunity to steal it all on the big day.
I put the bottle on the counter just before the main course so it would reach its ideal temperature by dessert. Imperial stouts jammed with flavors like the Midnight Autumn Maple are best consumed closer to 50ºF, give or take, so we can detect all the nuance of the particular ingredients. It’s meant to be full flavored, so the colder it is the fewer flavors you’ll find.
After the first couple sips, you realize this is a stout first, a fall seasonal beer second.”
After pouring it into a ten-ounce snifter-like glass, I dive into it to catch the initial fragrance. Lots of cinnamon and allspice with hints of sweet yams and maple syrup present, however the primary aroma is of milk chocolatey malt.
It’s often hard not to drink it up immediately after all the build-up with the aroma, but after examining it for a minute or two it’s not as dark as expected with a name like Midnight, although it’s about as dark brown as a beer can get without being black. The dark tan head diminishes shortly after pouring, but remains slightly, leaving a nice visual contrast between the light head and dark body.
After the first couple sips, you realize this is a stout first, a fall seasonal beer second. The yams and fall spices are there, but it’s more umami and milk chocolaty dark malts and dark fruity esters from a Belgian yeast profile, tasting a bit like prune. The texture isn’t as full as expected either on the front end, but the yams bring some creaminess to the middle of the palate. The spices linger at the finish to remind you this is a seasonal offering, but not enough to make you forget it’s really an Imperial Stout.
And, of course, this is when I take a huge bite of pumpkin pie! A beer like Midnight Maple Autumn is a great beer to put on the table with a holiday dinner dessert as it complements those flavors spectacularly. I tend to like a little more mouthfeel to my big stouts, but a seasonal offering that doesn’t hit you over the head with the ubiquitous “fall spices” is a welcome relief in a packed market of fall seasonals.
Yes, pass the yam beer, please.