I’m going to say it before you can: Gingerbread beers are gross. Usually. Except for this one. While I try to approach every beer with an open mind, there are some that linger a couple days longer in my fridge than others. Many of those involve spices.
My apologies, then, to this mahogany-hued Moody Tongue creation, which I side-eyed at first. Once I poured it, I immediately enjoyed its enticing, nostalgia-heavy scent of brown sugar, spice cake, pecan and warm-from-the-oven gingerbread cookies.
Moody Tongue is based in Chicago, but brewer Jared Rouben is a Louisville, Kentucky native. He tells me he was aiming to replicate the flavors and aromas of a gingerbread cookie dipped in bourbon. “If you’re using milk, you’re missing out,” he says. (I like his style.)
The bourbon notes in the stout’s aroma come from a year-plus of aging in newly emptied Heaven Hill barrels. They mostly express as a complementary boozy spice when I swirl the glass, weaving between the beer’s star anise, ginger and clove scents. It’s evocative of the holidays, but quietly so.
The sip is mercifully free of the spice-cabinet-clusterfuck that describes many gingerbread stouts. Instead, subtle and discernible flavors unfold at an even pace, first sweeping soft ginger and deep, spicy molasses across the tongue. Then, the bourbon barrel’s vanilla warmth enters the picture, creating a frosted-cookie impression. Finally, the exhale introduces some of the pecan pie nuttiness. While all of these dessert flavors read as sweet, against a stout’s roast the ginger, molasses and pecan elements actually have more earthy depth than I expected.
“It’s 16 degrees where you are right now. It’s 25 degrees where I am,” Rouben tells me. “We need this.”
I wouldn’t pair the beer with more gingerbread, but I do think it could add a counterpoint to simpler dessert flavors like vanilla ice cream or shortbread cookies. Before you open up three of these at once, though, check the ABV fine print: This imperial stout clocks in at 16 percent (yee-haw). It’s so well integrated that I would have placed the ABV at 5 notches lower; the alcohol merely creates a pleasant warmth in the throat and chest, like a fireplace or a sweater made of whiskey.
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