Reviewed: Fremont Dark Star Imperial Oatmeal Stout
Official description: Dark Star is inspired by the wandering tribes scattered through the terrible journey of time and space and adrift in the dark matter between the spaces of then and now. Dark Star is a dark, mysterious yet silky oatmeal stout of grand proportions balanced by a firm hop handshake…go ahead, enjoy the journey…Because Beer Journeys Matter! Malts: 2-Row Pale, Roast Barley, C-60, Carafa 2, Chocolate malts, Flaked Oats. Hops: Magnum, Willamette. 8% ABV, 50 IBUs.
Fremont Brewing Company – Fremont Dark Star Imperial Oatmeal Stout – 12oz can served in stemless snifter – 8% ABV
Fremont’s Dark Star is not a new beer (it’s been around since at least 2011), but it is newly distributed to Southern California. In the past, I’ve tried several of Fremont’s barrel-aged Dark Star variants, some of which are considered among the best beers in the world. However, I had not tried regular Dark Star until last year when it began showing up in stores and on tap in my area.
It’s worth mentioning that Dark Star is on the lower end of the ABV spectrum for this segment where 9-11% is fairly common. In terms of imperial oatmeal stouts, there are fewer mainstream beers in this subcategory than you might imagine. Most of them also include coffee, which this does not.
I’m sampling Dark Star from a 6-pack of 12oz cans with an easy-to-find packaging date of 1/29/19 found on both the outside of the paper carton and the bottom of each can. Though this is an imperial stout, Fremont still says the freshness window is 90 days post-packaging. Like most stouts/porters, I took this out of the fridge and let it sit for around 20 minutes before opening.
Into my glass, Dark Star is a clear cola brown color when pouring though looks opaque black once in the glass. Aggressive, almond-colored foam erupts and will spill right over the edge of the glass if you’re not careful like me on my first attempt. Head retention is exceptionally good, barely collapsing even an inch for over a minute. There’s a glossy sheen to the tightly arranged microbubbles. As it collapses at a glacial pace, the beer looks like a soufflé. Dark Star is one of the best looking stouts I’ve seen in ages.
Bringing up the glass, Dark Star gives you a stellar mix of creamed coffee, waxy dark chocolate, smoked meat, black Beldi olives, and black crayon in the nose. Each note is well-integrated where I would not pick out just coffee or just smoke. They blend together nicely.
Flavors more or less match the aroma, though Dark Star is slightly more bitter than I expected. Waxy dark chocolate brick is the major component here with bitterness peaking at a 6 out of 10 while sugar is similar at a 6/10. Spicy alcohol presents itself after several gulps, though it never tastes boozy. Super dark chocolate continues to dominate with prominent dark roast coffee and touches of smoke. It’s incredible really.
Dark Star’s most anticipated quality, though, is that silky smooth mouthfeel from the oats addition. However, I don’t really get too much of that oatmeal character. Dark Star isn’t as soupy or rich tasting as other oatmeal stouts. In fact, it is rather light bodied with very little proteinaceous quality in the mouthfeel. That allows for a semi-dry finish with the roasted malt providing a nice sting and accentuated rush of bitterness. If anything, Dark Star comes across as “no frills” as if someone at Fremont has been actively avoiding all of the trends, good and bad, in craft beer.
It may not be the most exciting beer out there, but it is flawlessly executed and captures the “classic” profile of this style. I love that it leans bitter and semi-dry compared to most other beers in this segment which tend to be boozy, sweet, adjunct-laden, and lose sight of implied dark chocolate and coffee flavors opting instead of actual chocolate and coffee additions. It’s a nice change of pace to revisit a classic approach to the style.
The closest beer out there to Dark Star, in my opinion, is Oskar Blues Ten FIDY, which comes in cans and is brewed with oats as well. Though Ten FIDY is stronger at, no surprise, 10.50%. That leaves Dark Star all on its own at this alcohol level. You’d have to step down to Firestone Walker’s 5.5% Velvet Merlin (now sold as Nitro Merlin) to get a similar experience with a lower ABV. Those three beers get my highest praises for no-nonsense stouts at three different alcohol levels.
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