There’s something about a stout that’s just glorious. Thick, roasty, blood-warming when the temperature goes south. Hints of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, even unique items like graham cracker and s’mores have been brought into the game by some of our creative local brewers in recent months.
A well-made, high-quality stout standing on its own is a beautiful thing, but a whole new layer of greatness is added when that stout is on nitro. Those aforementioned flavor notes are combined with a velvety smoothness that’s incredibly hard to duplicate. Even the visual show you get as your stout cascades in its receptacle and the bubbles slowly rise to the top to form the fluffy, white head that releases those intoxicating aromas is mesmerizing to say the least.
And, thanks to our friends at CraftBeer.com, let’s drop a little nitro knowledge on you:
When people talk of nitro, it’s a reference to the type of gas used in the carbonation process. It means the difference between the creamier nitrogen beers (N2) and their lively, prickly CO2 counterparts. A typical nitrogenated beer contains about 70 percent nitrogen and 30 percent carbon dioxide.
Nitrogen is largely insoluble in liquid, which is what contributes to the thick mouth feel. This effect is helped by a special piece of tap equipment known as a restrictor plate that forces the beer through tiny holes before it lands in the glass. That process causes the “rising” effect that is topped with the head. And it’s really only the bubbles on the sides of the glass that fall. Inside they are actually rising, as typically seen with a poured carbonated beverage.
So naturally, when I arrived at Voodoo’s Homestead pub one Thursday evening and saw “Cowbell: Double Chocolate Oatmeal Milk Imperial Stout on Nitro,” I felt I’d be doing my palate a disservice by not partaking. So I did. And it was everything I hoped it would be. In fact, any trip I’ve made to the Voodoo pub since this Cowbell discovery has been kicked off with more Cowbell and probably will be until this little beauty disappears until next year.
Because we’ve all got a fever, and the only prescription is more Cowbell, this beautiful stout has been christened Pittsburgh Beer of the Month. And to better acquaint you with this beer, I reached out to Voodoo’s Jake Voelker, one of the brewery’s principal owners, to give us the skinny.
I’m telling you, fellas…you’re gonna want that Cowbell on the track…
Jake, you may begin.
It’s one of the most unique beers you will ever have on nitro. Every year in the early spring is the timeline for its release and, once it’s gone, it’s gone until next year. If you see it hanging out later in the year, it may have some quality issues. Gotta keep this big boy refrigerated!
Where did the inspiration for Cowbell come from?
I mean, who doesn’t like more cowbell?! The Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken is one of our favorites. But seriously, Cowbell has been around for a long time. Back in the day, when nitro taps were being installed all over the place for macro import brands…there were zero craft options, so we made one. Now, there are a bunch of nitro options and it seems to be a trend. But Cowbell has been a part of our portfolio for a long time.
What characteristics should we know about Cowbell?
Ultra-smooth mouthfeel. Also, don’t forget it’s a big stout, so the higher ABV (8.5% to be exact) may sneak up on you.
What particular flavor notes should people expect to discover with Cowbell?
It’s like a chocolate milkshake, but in a beer. Period.
What foods pair well with Cowbell?
I think this one is really cool with some well-composed Mexican food. The sweetness pairs great with spicy chilis. When I’ve paired it before, the combination of the two reminds me of a mole sauce. The lactose in Cowbell also cools down the Scoville units (a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers) in spicier chilis, which is really nice.
Any fun, interesting, or crazy stories come from brewing Cowbell?
Christopher Walken is my personal hero.
Can we find Cowbell at any craft beer destinations in Pittsburgh or specifically in your taproom?
Of course! Some favorite craft beer spots around town like Carson Street Deli and House of 1,000 Beers in New Kensington typically order Cowbell when it comes around. After that, it’s first come, first serve!