No Corporate Beer Reviews: iStout Unchained

Beer: iStout Unchained
Brewery: 8 Wired (Auckland, New Zealand)
Style: Stout – Imperial/ Double
12% ABV / 50 IBU

8 Wired’s iStout Unchained is like no stout you’ve ever tasted. That’s quite possibly because by the end of the process of aging and conditioning iStout Unchained, it barely resembles a stout. It starts with a very good imperial stout, iStout, one of the New Zealand brewery’s flagship brews. But then it is aged for three years in pinot noir barrels with added breattanomyces. By the time iStout Unchained is ready to drink, the barrel aging has done the trick and it smells more like wine than beer.

Aging in pinot noir barrels helps to transform this stout base from a 10% ABV beer with above-average bitterness into something markedly boozier but without the chemical burn you might experience once the alcohol level gets to 15%. There are some roast-y notes from the malts but aging has tamped down on or diluted some of the bitterness, likely in parallel with more of the sugars from the malt being converted into alcohol. But it’s 11am on a weekday during the winter as I’m drinking this, so I don’t give a fuck, give me the strongest stout you’ve got, because my only plan is to spend the rest of the week napping it off.

Initially, I found the addition of brett culture to be perplexing, but it really fits in with 8 Wired’s program of sours; the New Zealand brewery even has a separate facility outside of Auckland just for aging. One cool thing about the inclusion of brettanomyces is that it agitates the beer and makes it pour with a massive, creamy head—a clever way of simulating the experience of a nitro pour. But the coolest thing is that the flavor of iStout Unchained is like a ripe French cheese. This makes sense, since washed-rind cheeses acquire their stinky flavor from the introduction of bacteria. But iStout Unchained is pungent without being off-putting, a stout primed for barrel-aging and the magic of further bottle conditioning.

For more info, check out 8 Wired here.