Bell’s Cherry Stout: Deeply Disappointed

You know when you’re just sure that something is gonna be great and then it turns out more awful than you could have imagined?  I’ve experienced this a few times in life.  There was that gorgeous redhead that was great in small doses but just horrible after 10 minutes of conversation.  Then there was the year the Brett Favre was signed by my beloved Jets and let his ego dash the team’s playoff chances (if your arm doesn’t work, ride the pine, glory hound).  And now there’s Bell’s Cherry Stout, a beer that I was totally psyched for that was a real clunker.

Let me explain why my expectations were so high.  First off, I’ve really enjoyed some of the beers that Bell’s makes, especially their Two Hearted Ale.  So in my mind, Bell’s makes great beer.  Then there was the New Glarus factor.  You see, last year my buddy Kevin from Liquor Outlet gave me a taste of New Glarus’s Cherry Stout and it was awesome and sublime, like a cherry Tootsie Pop mated with a really nice stout.  So I know how good a cherry stout can be.  I reasoned that even if Bell’s Cherry Stout turned out to be different from the New Glarus effort, I was certain that I was in for a treat.  Bells + Cherry Stout=Awesome was the equation I had in mind. Boy did I miscalculate! 

I wont go into the specifics too deeply.  In a nutshell, the nose was promising, but the beer tasted exactly like someone took a nice stout and poured in a few tablespoons of Vick’s cherry cough syrup.  The medicinal flavor was so immediately identifiable, it totally put me off the beer during the first sip.  I hung in there and tried to let it warm up to see if the richer flavors would emerge and balance out the cough syrup taste, but it did no good.  It was absolutely overpowering to my palate.

The funny thing is the conditioned response it had on my brain.  You see, I was coming off a bad bout of laryngitis when I had this beer, and I had recently been taking some cherry Sucrets to numb my throat.  It had been a couple of days since I had had a lozenge, but the medicinal cherry taste in the beer was enough to trigger my lame brain into numbing my tongue, just like the Sucrets had.  Talk about a placebo effect!  It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I don’t have complete control of my faculties and this actually happened, but it also goes to show just how medicinal this beer tasted to me.

So there I was, with my nose curled up in a sneer, tongue numbed, and my high expectations totally dashed.   It was a complete waste.  I eventually gave up trying and poured it out, saddened by the fact that something so promising had gone so sideways for me.

On the bright side, it does make me appreciate what New Glarus has done with their cherry stout, the same way the redhead makes me appreciate just how cool my wife is and how Brett Favre makes me appreciate Rex Ryan.  So I guess there’s that.

This beer and my underwhelming experience with Bell’s Oberon makes me think I need to downgrade these guys to “conditionally awesome” in my head, the same spot occupied by New Holland (their Dragon’s Milk is awesome and their other beers are hit or miss).  I had them up there in “can’t miss” territory with Founders and Dogfish Head, but I guess that’s pretty rare air.

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Categories: Beer, review


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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11 Comments on “Bell’s Cherry Stout: Deeply Disappointed”

  1. Don
    August 25, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Are you sure it hadn’t turned? I know you had a bottle of something not too long ago that you and Caryn thought tasted like a bactine sprayed Band-Aid. You surmised that it had turned. But being as close minded as you are you never tried another bottle. Perhaps this was just a bad bottle. Medicinal seems to be a flavor that happens when something starts to go bad. Just wondering. Did you have another? Could you try it again?

    • August 25, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

      Band aids and cough medicine are both kept in the medicine chest, but only one is the mark of a turned beer. The other is just the mark of a bad beer. This is just a bad beer, not a spoiled one.

  2. August 25, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    If you’re looking for reinforcement here, I also thought Bell’s Cherry Stout tasted like cough syrup. So to answer Don, I don’t think what you had went bad, I just think it’s a cough syrupy beer. Having just spent two weeks in Michigan and drinking about as much Bell’s as a man can handle, I have to say that I found all of their other stuff phenomenal (including the Oberon) so it’s a bit puzzling how the cherry stout turned out so bad.

    • August 25, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

      Thanks for verifying the cough syrup flavor, Ryan.

      I did a rotten job of picking my Bells while in Wisconsin. The Two Hearted was terrific, but the Oberon didn’t do much for me and the Cherry Stout was a disaster. To think I didn’t even try HopSlam. Shame on me!

  3. August 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Hi, Jim. I tried this beer back in March and liked it. I think I remember a beer discussion about you not liking sour beers and/or cherry flavors. Is that right? I know Don said he doesn’t always like cherry flavoring in beer. I characterized this beer as a sour for sure which is probably why you didn’t like it if my memory is correct. I’m no Beer Whiskey Brother but if you’re interested in my review, here it is:

    Now I want to try this again just to be sure.

    • August 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

      Nice review, Rachel.

      I don’t like hardcore sours, but a tart beer can be a treat as long as there’s a little sweetness in the mix.

      I mostly love cherry beers, Founder’s Cerise being my favorite. I even like Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, which isn’t complicated but sure is refreshing.

      This was just one of those beers that flipped the switch in my head as being awful. I resampled the beer several times and tried to reason my way around the flavor, but the cough syrup impression just wouldn’t go away.

      I’ll chalk up the differences in our reviews to personal taste.

  4. August 25, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    I think cherry-flavored medicine has ruined a lot of normal foods for me.

    Cherry soda – out. Cherry flavored candy – out. Cherry flavored cherries – also out.

    Maybe it was just an aversion to the flavor? Now its associated with being sick? Perhaps the New Glarus wouldn’t taste as good either this week?

    Gratuitous use of smiley faces. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • August 25, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

      Thanks for smiling up the place, Scott. I don’t share your difficulties with cherry flavors – I love ’em (even cherry flavored cherries).

      This flavor was just so spot-on to cough syrup the beer was ruined for me.

      I could taste the nice stout behind the medicinal twang, but the flavor of sickness ruined everything. Sorta like making out with a hot chick after she’s puked. A guy’s gotta draw the line!

    • Don
      August 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

      You sick this week Scott? Wow you bring up an interesting point, what if all medicine tasted like Beer? Wow that would really wreck things.

  5. August 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    No, not sick this week but my flavor aversions seem to last forever. Anything cherry for me sort of has that cough syrup association. I have to soak my cherries in blueberry juice to eat them. (Thanks Smith’s’ Brothers)

    Yeah, what if medicine were beer flavored? Maybe it is in an alternate universe?

    BTW Jim, your line is drawn way too high!!! 😐 😐 😐 😐

    • August 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

      Medicine is beer flavored – it’s called BEER!!!

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