BREWHEADS: Fade to Black

Merry Brew-mas! Drink and celebrate beer instead of worshiping the birth of a Royal Jewish Hippie Zombie Astronaut that just so happens to coincide with the Pagan winter solstice. Obey, cheers and amen!

During Christmas, I celebrated Brew-mas by pouring myself a couple of glasses of Fade to Black Vol. 1, a fall/winter seasonal brewed by Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado. Any self-respecting Metalhead should get the obvious reference to Metallica's epic song "Fade to Black" from their second record Ride the Lightning. In fact, you should be able to recite the first verse on command!

This brew is not an official metal beer collaboration between Metallica and Left Hand Brewing. But rather it is a "tribute beer," which is when a brewery names a beer as a nod to a band/album/song/lyric without the band's official endorsement. In case there were any doubts whether this was a tribute to Metallica, look no further than the first two lines of the beer's description on the brewery's website.

"That time of year when the day seems to fade away. Drifting further into the darkness with each passing day."

Compare that with the first two lines of the song "Fade to Black":

"Life, it seems, will fade away / Drifting further every day."

Case closed.

Fade to Black Vol. 1 is a foreign export stout that is 8.5% alcohol by volume. The bottles I bought were date-stamped Best by: 10/06/2016. The beer pours nearly pitch black, but it fades to brownish-red at the extreme edges. It smells of slightly burnt coffee with loads of chocolate and hints of caramel. They need to extract this smell and make air fresheners out of it!

Although I have drunk Fade to Black a few times over the years, this was the first time I paid close attention. Coffee is the predominant flavor, yet there also are lots of dark chocolate, burnt toffee, and caramel undertones. It is also a bit smoky, which works well with the other flavors. There is no coffee or chocolate added to this beer. The brewers at Left Hand did a great job achieving this complex flavor profile naturally by combining malts like roasted barley, chocolate malt, black malt, etc. The beer is somewhat sweet, but the hops certainly are not absent. You can taste the earthy Magnum and U.S. Goldings hops balancing the beer at a mild 30 IBUs (international bitterness units). The pleasing aftertaste lingers and does not seem to fade away like the song lyrics would suggest. It tastes like a coffee-dipped Heath Bar in the very best way. In fact, I need to try that. The more I drink this beer, the more I love it. After only one sip, I immediately was surprised this beer previously had not become a go-to winter favorite. I can see why this brew won three gold medals at the Great American Beer Fest (the Olympic Games for American craft beer).

There are five Fade to Black volumes. Each one is a different dark beer: Vol. 1 – Foreign Export Stout, Vol. 2 – Smoked Baltic Porter, Vol. 3 – Chili Pepper Porter, Vol. 4 – Rocky Mountain Black Ale, Vol. 5 – Black Rye Ale.

Fade to Black Vol. 4 is featured in one of my favorite books, The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers, penned by Decibel Magazine contributor Adem Tepedelen. If you like metal and beer, you need to buy this book!

(SPOILER ALERT!! The following paragraph mentions details of the new movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you might want to skip to the last paragraph. You have been warned.)

So you're probably wondering why I have Darth Vader and Kylo Ren in the beer pic. First, I'm a huge Star Wars fan. Second, I thought it would be appropriate to include a grandfather and grandson whose paths both drifted further every day from light—eventually fading to black. NERD ALERT!

Left Hand Brewing makes another seasonal Heavy Metal tribute beer called Wake Up Dead. Stay tuned for a BREWHEADS column on that beer. In the meantime, enjoy Fade to Black and blast old Metallica. Cheers!