There’s nothing wrong with having a big head.

Three Heads Berwing Big Head Stoutby Mark Tichenor

The beer scene is all about pushing the envelope. Each new beer is bigger, stronger, hoppier or more sour. But sometimes the way to grow is to take a step back toward the fundamentals. That’s what Three Heads Brewing did with their new seasonal release, Big Head Stout.

With the exception of the Irish dry style, you don’t see a lot of plain old stouts. Right now it’s all about insanely strong imperial stouts made with unicorn horns and virgin’s tears, then aged in 100 year old whiskey barrels. In that sense, Big Head is a retrenchment, free of gimmicks or pretense. It’s comfort beer that takes the Heads back to their days slaving over the basement brewkettle.

“When we did homebrewing competitions, the beer that consistently got the most medals was our stout,” says Geoff Dale, co-partner and head of sales for the company. “This is a stout you can have three pints of, but still not feel like it’s a watered-down weenie beer.”

Named after Three Heads employee Brian Johnson’s magnificent cranium, Big Head Stout packs a lot of character into that pint glass. As you’d expect, it’s pitch dark, with tons of vanilla and hazelnut in both nose and flavor, but without the ‘burned’ quality that’s so characteristic of stouts due to the heavily roasted malt. This makes the 7% abv Big Head instinctively, dangerously drinkable. And yes, my freshly poured example had a big, voluminous head.

The beer’s texture serves as the delivery vehicle for all that flavor, it’s silky, almost chewy, but doesn’t get so heavy as to be cloying. It’ll fill you up, but you’ll wind up happy to be full. It’s like the beer version of home cooking, and seconds are hard to resist.

Big Head Stout is a limited-release seasonal beer. The first 60 barrel batch is completely spoken for by pubs, restaurants and distributors, and there will be a second 20 barrel batch to follow. Dale says the Heads are playing it by ear, gauging consumer demand before planning a third time on the brew schedule. It’s currently on draft in Rochester at The Tap and Mallet, but you’ll soon be able to find it across the city and throughout Three Heads’ 10-state distribution area in places where they give a crap about good beer.

Really, Big Head Stout demonstrates a maturation for Three Heads, whose partners enjoy blurring style boundaries and occasionally playing with wacky ingredients. It takes a certain wisdom to realize that beer is an ancient beverage that stood the test of time for a reason, and sometimes the finest, most luxurious things are borne of simplicity. It’s a pity this is a seasonal release. Here’s to a very long season.

In other beers
The new Genesee Tap House’s 20 barrel brewery finally swung into action. Three new small-batch beers are now available for tasting and on draft in their upstairs pub: A Scotch ale, blonde ale and pale ale. The beers are also available to take home in growlers.

Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to


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