Prior to this whim, I have had no history with Uinta Brewing. I hadn't sampled any of their commodities. I hadn't studied their brewing history between banal bites of lunchtime offerings. I haven't really even uttered their name in a way that would suggest I'd like to get real friendly with them at all.
And the ultimate truth is, I picked up this bottle in a heavily-stocked Denver booze depot thinking it was the encumbrance of another brewery -- Crooked Stave -- due in part to me being 1) a dumbass 2) wholly unfamiliar with the absolute genius of Uinta Brewing 3) flimflammed by a neck-sticker that read "Crooked" on it, unknowing that this represented Uinta's Crooked Line, a series of unusually and epically brewed liquids using big-beer methods, like barrel-aging and innovation from magical gnomes from the 67 confirmed moons of Jupiter.
So, upon return from the cold cellar, flopping back down on the yard furniture with bottle in hand, eager to share with company, I scantly recited the customary details of its labeling to the participants: beer-style -- check, brewer -- check, ABV ... ¿¿que el fuck?? 13.2% alcohol? I then announced that my guests should prepare their anuses. And to get their popcorn ready.
I can understand why Uinta decided to go with a very prosaic distinction of labeling Labyrith as simply 'Black Ale'. It is disarming. It sounds harmless. Its like Holly Gennero suggests to John McClane in Die Hard, 'Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs.' But dubbing this just simply a Black Ale is like saying Tim Tebow doesn't like sex. No, he's a nutless celibate. And Labyrinth is a not a Black Ale. Its is a walloping, huge, falcon-punching stout.
We sat in our chairs, all like, 'Haaans, bubbie. I'm your white knight', and then we got our asses capped by this enormous beer like a smarmy 1980s widget trader.
When Labyrinth is properly defined, it is labeled as an American Imperial Stout, ready to carpet bomb your face with F-22 air-to-ground malt-rocket precision and 13.2% infra-red search and track alcohol. Labyrinth was SEAL Team Six infiltrating my inner compound to extract any remnants of wishing I had grabbed Crooked Stave, sobriety, and any other discounts of Uinta as a brewing organization. Wow. Fucking wow. This was absolutely both excellent and deadly. You see, being a beer scribe can be fraught with danger.
Despite wearing my ass like a hat, Labyrinth captured my interest almost immediately, and, like other darling artifacts that get passed on from one generation to the next, I also almost immediately felt regret sharing it in such an unremarkable fashion. This beer deserved to be compared horizontally with the other barrel-aged greats that were still sub-letting space in the cellar: Goose Island's BCBS, Brooklyn's Black-Ops, New Holland's Dragon's Milk, Deschutes' The Abyss, etc. Yes, as sexy as The Abyss.
This was not so much an American Imperial Stout as it was -- what I just now made up -- a Cabaret Stout. The origins of my categorization are obvious: dark, smoky, boozy, flirtatious, and, well, ready to bone. Otherwise stated, extremely entertaining.
Sure, in the very recent past, I was discussing the dregs of vanity projects like the well-funded karaoke act called 'barrel aging'. However, Labyrinth's trademark isn't in the oaking of the beer, nope. It is Uinta's actual adherence to clever ingredients which ultra-forgiving whiskey casks can't help to elevate: molasses, anise, cocoa, espresso, and yes, the very subtle rye itself. The result is a sweetly spicy beer that smells like a conversation with your anti-prohibitionist grandfather and a dense gravity that tours and branches through all of your sensory receptors like a stout maze -- or better yet, a Labyrinth. Oh shhnap! A moment of total realization and cognizance. I better keep beating myself over the head with it.
Acquired Argonaut Liquor (Denver)
Can I Find This in Austin? Uinta is not distributed to Texas
Album Radiohead | In Rainbows (Expanded disc) (2007)