Beer Review: New Belgium Piano Keys Imperial Stout


Piano Keys Imperial Stout | ABV 10%

BJCP Style: Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer

CraftBeer.com Style: Specialty Beer

CraftBeer.com Sensory Style: Dark & Roasty

Hops: Nugget

Malts: Marris Otter, Munich, Roasted Barley, Chocolate Malt, Caramel Malt, Flaked Oats

Specialty Ingredients: XOCOLATL cocoa nibs, Ugandan vanilla beans

Brewery: New Belgium Brewing

City: Ashville, NC

New Belgium Piano Keys IS Photo: Let Us Drink Beer Blog

(A quick note on Sensory Style: A recent, very thought provoking article from CraftBeer.com (It’s Time to Rethink How We Talk About Craft Beer Basics) by Mirella Amato introduced the idea that separating beers into Ale or Lager categories really doesn’t help newer craft beer consumers determine what beers they may or may not like to try. Sensory Style is actually more informative. I tend to agree with this, so I have introduced CraftBeer.com’s Sensory Style categories, in addition to beer style, to help someone reading my reviews get quicker understanding of the overall experience they should expect from the beer. Sensory Style is divided into six broad categories: Sour/Tart/Funky, Crisp/Clean, Dark/Roasty, Malty/Sweet, Hoppy/Bitter and Fruity/Spicy. If you would like to explore these more on your on, you’ll find them here: CraftBeer.com Beer Styles. Go ahead and explore, you’ll find they work quite well.)


Appearance: Black, fluffy khaki head with good retention. No visible carbonation

Aroma: Roasted malt accented with cocoa & vanilla. Mild alcohol.

Flavor & Aftertaste: Medium sweet malt backbone. Cocoa & vanilla flavors up front with roasted malt. Mild alcohol. Mild bitterness.

Palate: Moderate astringency. Full bodied, creamy & smooth. Low carbonation. Medium length finish.

Fair warning, this review will have some regional pride and bias to it. I have to state that up front because, as a multi-generation Georgian, I am quite proud of this beer due to its Georgia connection. New Belgium Piano Keys Imperial Stout is a collaboration between New Belgium Brewing and Atlanta based craft beer ambassador Dennis Malcolm Byron (aka Ale Sharpton). For craft beer enthusiast in Georgia, and the Southeast, most of us are familiar with Ale via his writing and commentaries in various food & craft beer related media in and around Atlanta. If you want to know more about Ale, you’ll find his blog here: Cruisin’ For A Brewsin’ . The admitted hop head is well respected in the craft beer community, not only in Atlanta, but nationwide and really knows his stuff. So when he puts his name on something, you pay attention to it.

According to New Belgium, the collaboration started from an frank and honest conversation about how to help increase the presence and participation of minorities in the craft beer industry. The conversations lead to collaboration to help promote awareness. How did he decide on what style to go with? According to Ale, “I wanted to brew a beer style that New Belgium has not done too often. Imperial stouts are well received across the board due to their ability to produce dessert-like flavors; who can say no to dark chocolate and vanilla?” The result was a 10% ABV Imperial Stout brewed with cocoa nibs and vanilla.

This beer absolutely displays New Belgium’s brewing expertise and Ale Sharpton’s keen sense of what craft beer enthusiasts enjoy. Visually appealing, this stout pours to a deep black color culminating in a fluffy khaki colored head showing very good head retention. Aromas consist of roasted dark malt, cocoa and vanilla only slightly interrupted by mild alcohol note. Then there are the flavors and mouth-feel. Surprisingly, it actually drinks more like a Porter, which I actually like. The grain bill gives it a creamy mouth-feel, as it drinks smooth as silk. Cocoa nibs from XOCOLATL and Ugandan vanilla beans provide dark chocolate and vanilla flavors upfront, followed immediately by roasted dark malt flavor. I think the genius of the beer’s design is, unlike many Imperial Stouts, roasted malt flavors don’t overwhelm the cocoa and vanilla flavors. Instead, it’s perfectly balanced between the three primary flavors.

New Belgium Piano Keys IS Photo: Let Us Drink Beer Blog

Another word of warning. As I mentioned, this stout drinks smooth and silky and the alcohol is well hidden; but remember, it’s 10% ABV. Ale commented on my Instagram post it’s sneaky and he isn’t lying. It comes in a 16 oz. can, which will go down real quick, so be sure to take it easy.

Overall, this is a well crafted beer and I enjoyed drinking it more than most Imperial Stouts I’ve had in the past. I rated it a 4.33 out of 5 on Beer Advocate. It comes packaged in a four pack of 16 oz. cans, which a really like. It was produced in a limited run initially; however, it’s my understanding that New Belgium will be producing another run early in 2021. If you missed out on this initial release, be on the lookout for the next one.

Congratulations to Ale Sharpton and thank you to New Belgium Brewing. Craft beer fans in Georgia are very proud of this beer. I have no doubt, if New Belgium were to release this to it’s nationwide distribution footprint, the Imperial Stout would be well received.

To find a retailer near you that stocks Piano Keys, check out New Belgium‘s beer finder here. Act quick, it won’t be around long.

Thanks for reading, until next time…Let Us Drink Beer!

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