As SanktGallen have released this year’s Valentine’s Day chocolate stouts, we’ll take a look at the 2017 limited release Sesame Chocolate Stout. We’ll follow that up with a review of their excellent regularly available Sweet Vanilla Stout.
SanktGallen Sesame Chocolate Stout (サンクトガーレン・セサミチョコレートスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 28; OG – 1.066; hops – Chinook, HBC 431
Pour – Moderate but creamy foam, cola black
Aroma – Smells very much like sesame and peanut butter (Nutter Butter!), a little bit of chocolate
Flavor – Initially roast sesame, chocolate in the middle, then a peanut buttery finish, very creamy texture overall, a bit more roast chocolate and bitter as it warms up
As we’ve covered before here, every January SanktGallen release four Valentine’s Day dark beers, with the solid Imperial Chocolate Stout being the centerpiece. They also release a Valentine’s Day special label of the Sweet Vanilla Stout (which is the same beer as the regular version, just with a different label), the not very good Orange Chocolate Stout, and a special version of a chocolate stout that varies every year. These are somewhat hit and miss, with the Smoked Chocolate Stout from 2015 being a winner, but the Strawberry Chocolate Stout from 2016 being a dud.
The 2017 special chocolate stout is a Sesame Chocolate Stout, which is quite unusual – I don’t think we’ve reviewed a sesame beer yet (nor even heard of one!). In terms of brewing process, they used black sesame, which they ground right before brewing, and threw it in at 3 different stages – the mash, the boil, and the secondary fermentation. Apparently they used 200kg of black sesame per batch, so that’s a lot of sesame (although Tamamura Honten named their 1t IPA after the fact that they used 1 ton of malts for each batch of that beer, which comes out to about 440kg of malts!).
One other minor brewing note – the hops they’ve used here are Chinook and HBC 431. Chinook, of course, is a hop commonly seen in pale ales and IPAs and such and known for being somewhat spicy and piney. The HBC 431, on the other hand, is one of those newer hops that we discussed briefly in our review of Tamamura Honten’s Not So Red crack at a red IPA. It’s an experimental hop that is supposed to less heavy on the citrus and more about earth tones. We certainly wouldn’t expect a sesame stout to be too citrus-focused, so let’s see how all that sesame and earthy hops play out in the beer.
The SanktGallen Sesame Chocolate Stout is quite an interesting and well-done brew, especially if you like Nutter Butters. Remember those? Rather regrettably the ingredient list certainly doesn’t look too appetizing now (for what it’s worth, there’s no sesame in the Nutter Butter), and apparently according to UrbanDictionary there are some rather unsavory alternative usages of the brand name now. Anyway, I used to really like those snacks, and it turns out that I still like them, at least in liquid alcohol form. The aroma is big, and pretty much initially is Nutter Butter spot on, with a strong combination of sesame and peanut butter, although you do get some roast and chocolate stoutness in there too. The flavor is also big too, although it is heavier on the roast chocolate than the aroma is. That doesn’t mean the sesame is ignored though, as it’s present throughout, and especially contributes to a nice peanut butter finish.
Overall this is a pretty unique beer, and I’m surprised at how well the sesame works here. I was initially somewhat skeptical, as some of their flavored Valentine’s Day stouts don’t work that well (see the Valentine’s Day regular Orange Chocolate Stout and last year’s Valentine’s Day one-off Strawberry Chocolate Stout). This one, though, definitely maintains strong stout-like characteristics and complements them with the sesame, rather than fundamentally changing the nature of the stout in favor of the special ingredient. We mentioned how they use quite a large quantity of sesame in this beer, and it definitely shows but works well. In sum this beer is rich and savory and definitely worth trying. In fact, it’s probably the best of the special one-off chocolate stouts that SanktGallen have released.
The Sesame Chocolate Stout can be found wherever you can find their Valentine’s Day beers, which get wider distribution than their normal beers. I found mine at Shinanoya for 540 yen (and they usually don’t carry SanktGallen), but I’ve also seen it at Liquors Hasegawa, Le petit L’ouest (who also don’t stock them normally), Izuya, and World Beer Market (formerly Tokyo Liquor Land).
SanktGallen Sweet Vanilla Stout (サンクトガーレン・スイートバニラスタウト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 28; OG – 1.068; hops – Chinook, E.K.G., Perle
Pour – Cola black, thin foam
Aroma – Roast chocolate and vanilla are strong in equal proportions
Flavor – Chocolate at first, but then soon enough vanilla comes in with great impact, and then chocolate returns on the finish with a bit of bitterness as well
The Sweet Vanilla Stout is part of SanktGallen’s regular lineup, although as we mentioned they include it as part of their Valentine’s Day set with a neck ribbon that says “St. Valentines’s Day”. The beer itself isn’t changed, and it makes uses of real vanilla beans rather than extract. They make a point of noting this, and also point out that they use grade A vanilla sourced from Papua New Guinea preferred by patissiers. A quick Google search turns up that this must be the Vanilla Tahitensis, which is a not-quite-as-vanilla-y variety than its stronger counterpart Vanilla Planifolia, and is indeed grown mostly in Papua New Guinea and used in pastry. So on to the beer to see the Vanilla Tahitensis in action!
As the aroma suggests, the SanktGallen Sweet Vanilla Stout is a solid combination of roasted chocolate and vanilla. It’s not sweet, and achieves a good balance of drawing out vanilla flavors without overdoing it while still having plenty of roast stoutness to it. There is also some bitterness just to let you know the hops are there. The use of the vanilla here is quite skillful, and it seems like they’ve made good choices with the type of vanilla (in that the Tahitensis isn’t going to be too overwhelming) and how they use it, with the beans allowing them to get a lot of vanilla in the aroma but not have it dominate and kill the flavor. Overall this is a nicely done beer and one of my favorites from SanktGallen. The only points I would dock it are for having a slight soda flash at the end, but not enough to really take away from the strong suits of the beer.
Given how good this beer is it’s surprisingly hard to find in Tokyo, especially since Le Collier shuttered their doors. I bought mine at Liquors Hasegawa, which stocks it occasionally, but it’s pretty rare to see this on the shelves anywhere in Tokyo. I did once see it at a very good price (under 400 yen, if I recall correctly!) at The Garden Jiyugoaka supermarket in Meguro, but I’m not sure where you could find it regularly. Liquors Hasegawa is still probably your best shot, and as it’s a quality beer I’d definitely recommend trying it out. I should also note that it’s very very rare on tap as well, so even though bottles aren’t that easy to come by it’s still a better bet than waiting for it to show up on tap somewhere.
So both of the flavored stouts we tried today were very very good, and while of course they have their misses SanktGallen have proven that they definitely are capable of making excellent stouts. Both the limited brew Sesame Chocolate Stout and the regular Sweet Vanilla Stout use their respective special ingredients in a way that draws out the unique flavor characteristics but complement rather than overpower the stout aspects of the beer. This definitely goes down as two more wins from SanktGallen, who again prove that they are indeed one of the best stout producers in Japan.