It's an undeniably difficult thing to pull off with elegance: a palatable 10% ABV beer. There are plenty of beers out there that taste good but contain additives or flavor enhancers far beyond what might be considered acceptable when viewed through the lens of the reinheitsgebot. I don't claim to be a purist in any sense, and I have ample love for these beers, but they exist in a category outside of what I tried to do as the aforementioned mindset began to dominate my brewing plans for the end of November. I wanted to brew two beers (one light, one dark) that embraced alcohol instead of trying to cover it up. Beers that would make you pontificate about their gorgeously realized flavors both because they tasted great and because you were more than a little jangled from drinking them. I was looking to use somewhat traditional ingredients to attempt to attain a balance between the heat you taste in a high ABV beer and the flavor that you desire form a quality homebrew.
I admit, this idea stemmed in no small part from a personal dislike of the trending approach in brewing to make all things quaffable also sessionable. Don't peg me as ignorant as I understand the idea behind session beers, they're just not something I plan on embracing anytime soon. I like my beers to be above 5% as a rule. I've tasted plenty of good session beers, but I tend to want to make beer that has a little more danger associated with it. Session beers are a little too reserved. I try hard to find something sexy about them, but the chemistry just isn't there for me.
I really liked Stone's 12th Anniversary Ale and I set out to do something similar with this beer. The idea was to showcase bitterness from the dark roasted malts, providing a counter to the alcohol bite. Hops took on a background role, with barely 15 AAUs added throughout the process. Two pounds of Flaked Oats provided the base needed to handle all of that bitterness. The result is smooth and drinkable but also intensely alcoholic and bitter.
A simple grain bill, with just enough residual sweetness and a ton of hops made this beer the counterpoint to the Bitter Stout. The bitterness needed to cut through the ABV came exclusively from hops, though there was also plenty of aromatics meant to compliment the significant heat in the end result. This beer came out intensely floral and finished just a bit too sweet at around 1.020. If it had dropped another 8 or 10 gravity points, the result would have been significantly less cloying.