There are beers named after any number of people—both real and imagined—but very few use a parody of a fake identity invented by one of the most recognizable music artists on the planet.

That is the case with American Solera’s Chris Grains, a 16 percent ABV imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with cacao nibs and marshmallows. According to the brewery, the new stout uses the same base as American Solera’s Life’s Distraction, an 18 percent ABV barrel-aged imperial stout that was sold as a member-exclusive in July 2018.

The name of the stout is a play on Chris Gaines, the fictional alter ego of country music legend Garth Brooks, who invented the character in 1999 to promote a movie that was never made. As part of the promotion, Brooks released a rock album as Gaines that eventually went gold, despite the fact that none of the songs were actually written by the country music star.

Released on March 7 of this year, Chris Grains was an exclusive release for members of the Tulsa, Okla.-based brewery’s American Solera Society club. The stout was the second exclusive release for the club’s 2019-2020 year—the first was Dollar For Dollar—and each member was allocated four 500ml bottles.

While I expect the stout to be dark and thick—it does use Life’s Distraction as its base, after all—I am taken aback by just how much the Chris Grains resembles motor oil as I pour it out of the bottle for the first time, complete with an almost total lack of head. As if that was not enough, the aroma hits me like a ton of bricks: a combination of dark chocolate, creamy oak, bourbon, slight espresso and marshmallow sweetness.

Thankfully, the profile follows the aroma almost exactly: bitter cocoa nibs easily take the top spot on the palate, followed by lesser flavors of oak, sweet bourbon, roasted malts and a touch of espresso bringing up the rear. However, while there is some sweetness on the palate, the majority of the marshmallow is easily identifiable on the finish, where it lingers for far longer than it should after every sip. The combination of the flavors on the palate and the finish reminds me strongly of drinking a liquid version of chocolate covered marshmallows, a fact that did not change much as the beer comes closer to room temperature.

As it warms, the profile of the Chris Grains adds a bit of sweetness to the palate, albeit not near enough to overtake the bitter cocoa nibs that easily remains the dominant flavor. In addition, there is more oak and bourbon noticeable in the profile, but at the expense of the slight espresso note, which has disappeared by the time I am a bit more than halfway done with the beer, never to return. The marshmallow sweetness on the finish does become a bit cloying near the end of the bottle, but fortunately, it’s not cloying enough to make it even close to undrinkable.

American Solera Chris Grains
BREWERY: American Solera
LOCATION: Tulsa, Okla.
STYLE: Imperial Stout
ABV: 16 percent
IBU: Not Disclosed
PRICE: n/a
RELEASE DATE: March 7, 2020
AVAILABLE IN: 500ml Bottles
Barrel-aged pastry stouts are some of the hardest beer styles to nail for a reason: the adjuncts used are typically on the sweet side, which when combined with the natural sweetness of a thicker base that has been barrel-aged can play havoc on the stout’s balance. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to American Solera's Chris Grains, as the stout’s inherent sweetness on the palate is cut nicely by a strong and distinct bitter dark chocolate flavor, leaving quite a bit of room in the profile for the marshmallow sweetness to dominate the finish. Throw in the thick mouthfeel—almost like drinking chocolate syrup straight from the bottle—and I am left with not only one of the best barrel-aged stouts of the year, but also one of the best examples of a marshmallow pastry stout that I have ever tasted.
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