What makes a beer a classic?
That's a tough question. For me, it's a beer that upon a first try, or after multiple tries become engrained in my beer palate to the point that when I see it, I'm instantly drawn to the memory that this beer would be a good choice. A beer that no matter what, I'll not be disappointed.
I believe, and I think many of you in the St. Louis beer community would agree that Modern Brewing's Arkham's Finest, is a classic. Or if you need more time, it's a classic in the making. It's a beer that never disappoints, always delivers and is engrained in my brain.
So, What's The Story Behind Arkham's Finest
Every beer has a story, and Arkham is one worth knowing. I reached out to Ronnie Fink at Modern to get a better idea of how this beer came to be?
Please tell us the backstory of this beer? Why was it brewed? What inspired it
So this beer goes back about 4 years now. I wanted to do a stout with coffee and chocolate but make it more of a collaboration so we reached out to our favorite coffee roaster (Kuva) and the best chocolatier (Rick Jordan).
Made for a great and fun time. We also wanted it to be less alcohol than normal beers of the style which seemed at the time to be upwards of 10% normally. so we went with 8% and made it less of a special release and more of a winter staple.
My favorite had been Breakfast Stout.
Where did the name Arkham's Finest come from?
The name was obviously comic inspired. I've always been a huge Batman fan. Arkham Asylum is the prison/nut house from Batman. We went with the Finest because we wanted to showcase the best coffee and chocolate we could find.
What makes this beer unique or stand out from others like it?
I think this beer stands out amongst the similar ones of the style because it provides all the flavors you want, chocolate, roast, coffee, and it also has a creamy mouthfeel from the oats and lactose used but its also approachable and balances all those flavors. I feel like one flavor doesn't stand out over any other and a lower abv (for the style) also provides a balance. Which also will at some point allow up to do an imperial version!
Why do you think the public has taken such a liking to this beer?
As far as how it has been received by our customers, I think everytime we brew it the beer gets even better. As I said its only out in winter so we aren't brewing year round so each winter we get to make simple tweaks and adjustments that have definitely helped the beer.I think Arkham provides a great amount of flavor and complexity without being too much a coffee beer or too much a chocolate beer. It's also 8% which helps the style hold up with a great amount of malt balance and flavor. Its meant to be a beer that is enjoyable to drink but not overwhelm.
Can you tell me about the label art? What are we looking at? Who is the artist?
So when discussing label ideas I became fixated on something dark (like the coffee/chocolate) with different shades of gray and black but with also a simplicity about it. SO we have a gate to the "asylum" if you will but more of a gate to the beer. Very simple. The printing process has been tricky so we have slowly been making a few tweaks and eventually, once we go thru our stock of labels, we will get it perfect. A good friend from high school, Jason Hacket, worked on the artwork for us.
What else can you tell me about this beer that people might find interesting?
A few fun details about this beer is hard but I'll try! First time I brewed it was the first dark beer we brewed and it was a miserable brew day. I had a stuck mash that I'll never forget!
This beer has also been used in barrels. We get barrels from Still630 every year (their Rally Point Rye) and age the beer for about a year and release it as Block B.
We have also used it in Red Bordeaux barrels for a beer called AF34 which we will be bottling as a limited release in the new year. It was aged 34 months and tastes incredible.
In the glass - the appearance is exactly what you would expect, dark as night with a thick creamy head of foam. The foam leaves a great thick amount of lacing with each gulp.
On the nose - when first poured you immediately get freshly brewed coffee and fresh cream. As it warms the chocolate starts to dominate with milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and fudge.
On the draw - the flavor is similar and one of the best parts is how it changes as you let it warm up. Fresh coffee blends well with the depth of chocolate flavors and then we get a background of crystal malts, oats, roasted barley, and lactose.
"So many flavors melding together with none of them being the showcase," said Fink. "One thing I notice with customers is they have differing views of flavors which as it should be because everyone's palates are different. I think one of my favorite parts about this beer is that it's not a special release, it's seasonal and it's a beer I can have multiples of."
"Usually, I would say people overload this type of beer with coffee or chocolate or alcohol and while I love that, you usually can only have one and then you start to lose some of the flavors while with Arkham I could have a few and still taste all the same flavors and aromas as the first sip."