Renaissance | Dancing Gnome
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I love visiting breweries in different cities. You meet new people, try different and exciting beers, and usually get some good recommendations along the way. But sometimes you aren’t able to make it to that brewery due to other obligations. Dancing Gnome, when I visited Pittsburgh, suffered that fate. Try as I might, I never made it to the brewery. Fortunately, I met up with Nick Adams from The Weekly ReCap to talk about Pittsburgh beer. We swapped local beers and he gave me this Renaissance.
Andrew Witchey opened Dancing Gnome in 2016. A planned expansion stalled due to COVID, but it will open eventually and the original location will become offices for the brewery. They never stopped releasing beers and collaborating with other breweries. Every so often, usually around some festival, Dancing Gnome beers will show up in the Chicago market, so there are chances to get and try their beer closer to home.
Renaissance could be called a rebirth; the beer and the release harken back to simpler craft beer times. A barrel-aged stout with nary an adjunct in sight? Hello 2010. It features a blend of three different imperial stouts aged in bourbon barrels for 14 months. A bit more common nowadays but still interesting. And finally, it was a silent release. No online release, no lines, no pictures of the lines for Instagram, no drones flying overhead. Just an Instagram post after it had been released. Big FOMO on this one, but a nice memory of beer releases past.
Renaissance pours black with some nice dark brown head. Big, soapy bubbles rest atop the half finger of head that slowly recedes to a thin layer. Tilting it in the presence of light reveals some brown or cherrywood highlights on the beer. The glass stains a bit but it never goes so far as to change the color of the glass.
Renaissance hits you with a bourbon burn, which makes sense given how long it’s been in barrels. It doesn’t dominate or overtake the rest of the beer like Barreled Souls’ Honey Pot did. Chocolate dominates the nose, but a more bitter or baker’s chocolate. Swirling it around reveals even more chocolate nose flavors. A slight vanilla aroma from the barrel comes through as well. The biggest surprise, however, is the fruitiness of it. Dark cherries and raisins feature prominently. I’d even go so far to say raspberries showed up as well. Surprisingly and welcomely complex.
Renaissance continues that trend when drinking it. Some roasty coffee notes even make an appearance as well, even though only slightly. The big star comes courtesy of the chocolate, specifically bitter chocolate. It reminds me of some high percentage cacao bars with bitterness and a little dryness. Some fruit shows up as well, but much less than on the nose. Another surprise is the nuttiness that comes off it. Think of a Snickers bar, but replace the sweet and sugary chocolate coating with a more bitter chocolate.
While the alcohol burn is there, it never gets to be too much and never detracts from the beer. Same thing goes for the mouthfeel. Suitably thick but never pummels you and becomes too much. The bitter chocolate notes stay around and make you want to drink it again and again.
Renaissance definitely fits into that “throwback” barrel-aged stout. I was able to finish the entire 500 mL bottle quickly – and happily. The bitter chocolate is a nice change of pace from the current crop of barrel-aged stouts that focus more on sweet, creamy chocolate and big flavor adjuncts; I’m typically done after about six ounces of those. While the 10% is substantial, it never gets to be too much to make it less enjoyable.
I’m honestly hoping more beers like this come out – ones that just use the barrel and possibly blending to reveal new aromas and flavors that aren’t initially there. Locally, places like Revolution (with their Deep Wood series) and, more recently, Goose Island’s Bourbon County focus more on the barrel treatment and blending rather than overloading the beer with adjuncts. I would definitely love to drink more beers like Dancing Gnome’s Renaissance.