Living in Oregon, I don’t often get to try beers from Schlafly in St. Louis. Fortunately, though, they occasionally send new releases my way. The latest is limited to just 5,000 bottles that come out tomorrow and will likely sell out quickly. So despite this being a special release in a bottle that looks so nice that I almost didn’t want to open it, a friend and I got into it yesterday.
The Variant is the first release in Schlafly’s Ibex Rare series. This stout is blended from two components; part of it was aged in port barrels, and the other infused with cocoa nibs. The result is a very rich, very dark stout that comes in at 9.4% abv.
The blending approach taken here is definitely a good thing. The beer takes on a moderately lively carbonation and the dark chocolate flavors are well-integrated without dominating the beer. It’s dark and very roasty, with hints of coffee and a light savory note. The port influence is more mild, at least to my palate, coming across perhaps in dark fruit on the finish. It’s not overly sweet, keeping one coming back for more.
There’s a tendency with event beers like this to go big in many directions, and I sort of expected that here, but one of the great things about The Variant is that it avoids excess. It’s barrel aged but not too heavy, chocolatey but not overwhelmingly so, and strikes a great balance between its sweet malts and bitter roasted notes. Even the 9.4% abv, while not exactly sessionable, is moderate enough to make sharing a 750 ml bottle between two people entirely reasonable. The beer succeeds in seeming special without being extreme or gimmicky. Or, as my friend summed up, “It’s one of the best stouts I’ve ever had.”
It’s really good, and if I lived in the distribution area I’d keep an eye out for another bottle. Definitely recommended, and a great start to what will hopefully be a series of beers that continues to be worth seeking out when they emerge.