Rogue's Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale: Uniquely pedestrian
The first thing that comes to mind when considering this beer on the shelf is, what the hell is soba ale? Well, I'm pretty sure Rogue has invented it, but I doubt there will be a mad rush of brewers wanting to get in on the action. Not that it's a bad beer; it's just a typical style everyone can do already, with a twist. Namely, roasted buckwheat, or what Japanese Iron Chef Morimoto would call soba. It turns out to be a sort of brown ale, almost a stout-leaning porter, which has a unique aroma, at least -- if not flavor.
Rogue brews a normal soba ale, as well, but the Black Obi is the kicked-up version. They enhanced it by tossing in a bunch of extra roasted malt, and a few more hops. It still comes in at a fairly paltry 4.8% alcohol level, and the body remains on the thin side, so it might be kicked-up, but it is definitely not beefed-up.
In a glass, it looks like any average porter -- reddish brown, with a small, quick head that fades to nothing. The meager aroma will not knock you out, either. The roasted malt and a touch of caramel is essentially all it amounts to, with a dab of sweetness underneath. It has to be the roasted soba coming out over everything, though, because it doesn't smell like any other beer I've had.
The flavor is quite a bit less robust than expected. There's a healthy dose of carbonation to keep it jumping on the tongue, but also a creaminess at the same time. That's always a good combination, and it works nicely here. The roasted malts and some nuttiness come right out front and dominate the whole thing. That unique aroma seems to get slightly lost in the flavor, probably for the better anyway, and the beer becomes a very average porter again. There's just enough hop kick to rescue it from falling off into a morass of treacle and general awfulness. But, it is enough. It is definitely not awful. It somehow manages to be one-of-a-kind and purely average at the same time.
Black Obi does seem a bit confused about what it wants to be in life, but it shows little bits of promise. It would be decent paired with a slab of roasted pork, for instance. A good sized slab, since the beer only comes in those 22oz bottles. Maybe it just needs a partner to show the way? Unfortunately, the flavors are a just a little weak for most powerful foods, but also a little too pronounced for anything overly delicate. I certainly can't imagine wanting it on its own, though. Ever. Or having more than one bottle, however large the slab of meat. Bit of a loner, not exactly likable, doesn't play well with others, but shows some potential. Maybe it should be held back a grade?
Soba ale turns out to be a typical style of beer, with an atypical ingredient. In the end, that unique ingredient isn't quite enough to save it from mediocrity. In fact, it may be what pushes it just below that level. Rogue may have tried to bolster this ale, but it still isn't quite enough. It falls into the no-man's-land of beer. So, what do you do with it? Unless, you're addicted to soba or it later turns out to be the cure for cancer, just go with a normal porter.