Beer Sherpa Recommends: Ecliptic Oort Imperial Stout
Every brewery seems to make a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. The original whale, conceived over cigars with a legendary distiller, inspired countless reproductions, and what was once a rare and special presentation has now become commonplace. Worse, a steady drift has taken hold, such that many of the most sought-after examples are meditations on excess. Many are ultra-sweet bourbon bombs so treacly I expect them to ball up, like tar, in the mouth. It has gotten to the point that I now cringe a bit whenever someone pulls out one of these “special” stouts.
On Wednesday, a friend did just that, with a year-old bottle of Oort, Ecliptic’s winter-release stout. I didn’t notice my inner cringe until I took a sniff and a swallow. In that delicious swirl of chocolate and roast I realized how surprised I was to find a toothsome example. And tasty it was. Barrel-aged imperial stouts are so often afflicted by the faults of imbalance (too sweet in most cases) or a failure to integrate. The bourbon sits like a slick atop the beer, a boozy kick going down the throat—like a stout boilermaker.
But in good examples like Oort, the whiskey is subdued. Here it added both a butterscotch warmth, and also little prickles of winter spice. The base beer has a chocolate-toffee center wrapped up in coffee-roast malts. It is full, of course, but not overly sweet, and the finish is smooth and harmonious. It’s that finish that seals the impression. Where in poor examples the flavors fall apart into their separate elements, in Oort they all come together, like a symphony playing a single concluding note.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ecliptic’s owner, John Harris, was the brewer who created Black Butte Porter, after all, and scores of dark ales afterward—at Deschutes and then Full Sail. Ecliptic is one of the few breweries that keeps a dark ale (Capella Porter) in the regular line up. John is more known for his hop affections—and lately his affinity for sours. But through the decades, he’s also been a quiet champion of porters and stouts. Oort’s success should have been no surprise at all.
The 2019 version of Oort is out, and this year it’s not barrel-aged. It was released in January and is available now on draft and in bottles at the brewery. I plan to make a stop ASAP and grab a bottle or four, and if you’re a stout fan like me, consider making a trip yourself.