Bell’s – Black Note Review (with comparisons to KBS)

Black NoteAll You Need to Know

Brewery: Bell’s Brewery
Style: Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout
ABV: 11.4%
Cost: ???? (12oz)
Glassware: Teku, Snifter
Temp: 55°F
Availability: Nanosecond in Jan, Feb or March
Purchased@: Beer Trade

Quick Take: You certainly don’t need me to tell you that Black Note is a fantastic beer (it is btw). It has a reputation that existed long before this blog and will for as long as Bell’s brews it. I love the combination of the typical dark, malty flavors with the tang of dark fruits that still gives you the mouth feel you want without being too sweet. It’s a top stout for me and one of the most well-balanced, layered bourbon beers I’ve had.


Brew Facts: Black Note is made from a blend of Bell’s Expedition Stout and Double Cream Stout that is aged on bourbon barrels for several months.

Black Note 2Appearance: A black hole slips from the bottle on pouring. A beer dark enough to absorb light is exactly what I want out of a beast like this. An off-white, beige head foams up but quickly dissipates to a black donut on the surface with a central island of bubbles thanks to the nucleation point of the Firestone Walker teku glass. Not a lot to say here and no real comparisons to KBS as they look nearly identical. Dark beers are dark.

Aroma: A sniff and I can already tell this is my type of imperial stout. The aroma is peat, dark malt with hints of chocolate, vanilla, coffee, oak, and a nice dose of buttery bourbon. The sweeter side of the aroma has some dried fig and plum, making a tangy sweet that separates itself from the cocoa. It’s a balanced aroma without a standout element, but would make a great perfume to bring the beer nerds running. In comparison, the KBS nose has more coffee/espresso cream and roast with a deeper molasses and stronger chocolate. I may actually prefer the KBS aroma, but that’s a tough call.

Taste/Mouth Feel: A sip and I’m hit with a rich, full-ass body with just a bit of diacetyl (buttery) slick in the mouth that avoids the oily pitfall. It has a creamy texture to go along with the popcorny heat of the alcohol. The flavors don’t really surprise, hitting similar notes to other bourbon barrel-aged stouts: chocolate, toasty toffee, touch of burnt/char on the dark malts, fig/plum fruit sweet, and vanilla. As expected, there is a lot of cross over with KBS, however the presence of fig and dark fruit comes through more with Black Note. Black Note also excels with a delectable finish for the record books, if you keep records on that kind of thing. The smooth espresso, bourbon and chocolate hang nicely for one of my favorite finishes ever. No need to dive right back in because those notes play across your tongue like a smooth sonata long after your last sip. It’s in this aspect that Black Note clearly surpasses KBS. The finish on KBS is dry and chalky, with an underlying taste of bitter coffee. The espresso emphasis of Black Note replaces those bitter aspects with a motherly hug of cream and sugar coffee warmth. While I wouldn’t consider this a coffee beer, it makes me want to become a coffee drinker.

Final Thoughts: You certainly don’t need me to tell you that Black Note is a fantastic beer (it is btw). It has a reputation that existed long before this blog and will for as long as Bell’s brews it. If you’ve been on any beer forums, you may also know that any conversation of Black Note eventually turns to a showdown with KBS. Both are bourbon barrel-aged delights with similar flavor profiles and limited availability that can make finding a bottle an expensive chore. So which is the better beer? The drinkability for both is uncommon for such huge ABV beers, but KBS does a better job of hiding the booze. The ninjaing (it’s a verb now!) of alcohol that KBS pulls off comes at the cost of a dry, chalky finish. KBS has a better chocolate presence, an important part of a bourbon-aged stout for me, but the long, warm, lingering finish and heavy mouth feel of Black Note makes that the better beer for me.

KBS aside, I love the combination of the typical dark, malty flavors with the tang of dark, rasiny fruits that still gives you the mouth feel you want without being too sweet. A beer like this is what a bourbon stout is all about. It’s a top stout for me and one of the most well-balanced, layered bourbon stouts I’ve had. If there is anything to knock Black Note on, it would be the spicy heat coming on a touch strong or the possibility of this being too sweet for some, but that is hunting for faults in an expertly crafted beer.

Check out my KBS review if you are interested.

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