Food & dining

99 Bottles

Reviews of two very different stouts

“Death” by Backlash Beer and Idle Hands’ “Absence of Light.”
gary dzen/globe staff
“Death” by Backlash Beer and Idle Hands’ “Absence of Light.”

The big brewers may be rolling out their spring seasonal releases, but here at 99 Bottles we adhere to a more faithful definition of the seasons. When it’s cold I tend to drink heavier beers, and when the weather warms up the beer in my glass gets lighter. There should be no hard-and-fast rules to anyone’s beer drinking, but February also isn’t the time to abandon stouts and porters.

Two very different local stouts can help you occupy the space between now and Memorial Day. Death, an imperial stout from Backlash Beer, and Absence of Light, a Belgian stout from Idle Hands Craft Ales, offer different takes on the style that keep it interesting.

Last January, Backlash founder Helder Pimentel e-mailed me with some bad news. Death, at that time an imperial stout brewed with chipotle peppers, did not meet the brewer’s standard and had to be dumped.


“We’ve been pretty lucky up until now, but I guess it was only a matter of time before something like this happened,” Pimentel wrote. “It just so happened to be the last beer in a series we’ve been really vocal about and had especially high hopes for.”

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Conquest, War, and Famine, were the first three beers released in Backlash’s Apocalypse series. Pimentel was happy with this year’s version of Death, an imperial stout without chipotle that weighs in at 9 percent alcohol by volume and 70 IBUs (international bitterness units).

Death pours motor-oil thick into a tulip glass. I smell cocoa powder and booze. The first taste is heavy on bitter coffee and chocolate, and the beer finishes with a chalky-dry finish. Let this brew warm up and the chocolate gets much sweeter. This is an imperial stout in the vein of Alesmith’s Speedway Stout and Founders Breakfast stout, an aggressive beer that manages not to be cloying or uninteresting.

Idle Hands Absence of Light is a different animal but no less delicious. The beer is brewed with Belgian Ale yeast and a spectrum of malts ranging from pale to chocolate to black. Brewer Chris Tkach originally made the beer as a test batch in April of 2011, but the response was so great that it’s become a standby.

I get dark fruits and hints of the chocolate I know is hidden inside. At a relatively low 36 IBUs, Absence of Light showcases the coffee, fig, sweet cocoa, and spicy, yeasty banana flavors in a subtle way. To me this tastes more like a Belgian Quad than a stout, with the dark fruits playing a starring role. There’s nothing similar about these two beers despite the stout designation, and that’s perfectly OK. There’s plenty of time to try both before the weather turns.

International Gruit Day


Brewers around the world, including at least two locally, are celebrating International Gruit Day this Saturday. What is a gruit, you say? Centuries ago, before German purity laws legislated that beer should be made only with water, barley, and hops, beers were brewed with dozens of herbs. These gruit or grut (German for herb) ales were spiced with plants such as juniper, heather, and yarrow. The beers are making a comeback among craft brewers today.

Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square is tapping three gruit beers for the occasion: the award-winning Heather Ale, Weekapaug Gruit, and Hay is for Horses, a “Nordic pale ale “ brewed with hay and heather honey.

Mystic Brewery is pouring seven gruits starting at noon. The beers include Eldergold, a pale beer brewed with edible flowers elderflower, chamomile, and calendula, and Radix, an amber beer aged on sassafras root and cedar.

Row 34

Looking for a beery place to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday? Row 34 in Fort Point has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants. Beer director Megan Parker-Gray masterfully crafts the draft list, bringing in an eclectic range of brews ranging from rare German-style beers brewed in Italy to sought-after pales brewed at Trillium Brewing next door.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Row 34 invites guests to watch the game while enjoying special game day treats and a freshly tapped cask of Domaine Dupont French cider.

Gary Dzen can be reached at gary.dzen@globe .com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeGaryDzen.