Epoch | Narrative Fermentations
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Last year I won a fantasy baseball league where the prizes consisted of boxes of beer. In the same box as the Private Press Beyond Forever, I also received a beer from Narrative Fermentations. I had never heard of this brewery and am always willing to try out new things, so I decided to give Epoch a go.
Narrative Fermentations opened (or rather released their first beers) on June 12, 2020 in San Jose, CA. The brewery was started by Jon Berkland and John Phelan. Jon worked for a distributor and John started homebrewing. Eight years after they brewed their first batch together, Narrative Fermentations became a reality. A portion of the brewery was funded via Kickstarter.
Epoch is Narrative Fermentation’s pastry stout (actually, it’s a double pastry stout). The ingredient list on the can both excited and scared me as I read them off – coconut, cacao nibs, coffee beans, vanilla beans, and milk sugar. It seems my threshold for adjuncts usually sits around two, so I’m hoping the beer has some balance.
Epoch visually acts more like a barrel-aged stout than anything else. A very small amount of head that immediately goes away and a relative high Glass Alcohol Stain (GAS) of around 3 for a non-barrel-aged beer. (We’re still tooling the GAS scale, but this one leaves behind a clear stain that stays a bit, so a 3. 10 is max.) It pours pitch black with almost no other color showing up, even when trying to look for a highlight. As with some heavily adjuncted beers, some debris floats on top which could be coconut flakes. Nothing major.
The aroma, however, is major. Vanilla and chocolate feature, with some coffee grounds backing it up. A hint of coconut comes through as well. (I’ll admit the can is a few months old, so maybe the coffee and coconut have dropped off a bit.) Somehow in the midst of all this, cherries show up, adding a nice little fruit diversion from all the sweet. And this beer smells sweet. It doesn’t smell like a bakery, though (we’ve had that experience before). That chocolate comes off as cocoa powder, but more like a flavored one instead of straight chocolate.
That chocolate dominates the flavor profile; we’re talking sweet chocolate here, not that bitter baker’s chocolate. The vanilla stands toe-to-toe with the chocolate and that milk sugar doesn’t do anything to help that sweetness. Yes, it definitely adds a creamy texture to the beer. But that combined with the medium to low carbonation causes things to stay around. Sweet things.
The big problem for me? Everything in this beer works toward furthering the sweetness agenda. Nothing stops it. The one thing that could help out – the coffee – doesn’t really assert itself. There’s a hint of the coffee – as well as the coconut – but it’s nothing major. I probably wouldn’t even be mentioning it if it weren’t on the can. On the positive side, it does taste like a vanilla chocolate cake. A sweet vanilla chocolate cake.
Yes, Untappd has it listed as a double pastry stout. Yes, it has five adjuncts in it. But not all of those adjuncts veer sweet. I was right to be wary though. Maybe cut down on the adjuncts? No milk sugar? More coffee? Epoch would definitely pair well with a less sweet and/or chocolate-lacking cookie style, like a snickerdoodle or shortbread cookie.
On the plus side the sweetness really masks the 10.5% alcohol on the beer. But it didn’t really matter as I was unable to finish the entire 16 ounce can. I didn’t even come close. Epoch works best as a festival pour or a flight pour. Or a can you split with friends, as finishing one off yourself becomes really challenging. I’m still interested in having some things from Narrative Fermentations, but definitely not a full 16 ounces of Epoch.