Big stouts are a staple in the American craft brewing scene. These robust, flavorful, high alcohol beers are typically released in the winter months, and each year sees a growing number of variations on the style. From the historic Russian Imperial Stout to modern takes that don't fit traditional style guidelines (see: Imperial Oatmeal Stout with spices), these dark brews have been filling snifters, slumbering in barrels, and warming gullets for centuries.
Every year new and old breweries alike release stouts that haven't seen the light of day. Some hit the mark, others... don't. Here we've pulled together 5 of the best new(ish) stouts from across the country. If you see any of these sitting on the shelves, we whole-heartedly recommend you grab them.
Perennial Artisan Ales Abraxas
Abraxas just celebrated its 2nd annual release in November, so it's not brand new, but we wanted to make sure the rapidly-rising Perennial Artisan Ales got on your radar. Aged on ancho chiles, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and cacao nibs, this spiced Imperial Oatmeal Stout is a punch to the palate. The aroma provides strong notes of cacao and mint leaves with little trace of the 10% ABV. The mouthfeel is fantastic, thanks to a hefty amount of flaked oats. The first sip goes down like a melted mint chocolate chip ice cream and finishes with a moderate amount of heat from the chiles. Seek this one out if you can—if you're really lucky, perhaps you snagged a bottle of Barrel Aged Abraxas at the brewery-only release last month (unfortunately we weren't).
New Belgium Imperial Coffee Chocolate Stout
Another fine example of the beer churned out in New Belgium's Lips of Faith series, Imperial Coffee Chocolate Stout succeeds where many coffee stouts fail. This big beer (10% ABV) has a huge coffee and dark chocolate aroma—it's like walking into a coffee roaster that also happens to be baking a chocolate cake. The flavors follows suit, bringing on more coffee and chocolate with a moderate roast level and mild alcohol burn. It finishes sweet, but not too sweet that you don't want to dive in for another sip (or glass). Here's to hoping New Belgium catches our hints and makes this an annual release.
Elevation Beer Company - Oil Man
Elevation Beer Company of Pagosa Springs, Colorado is relatively new to the scene, opening in May of 2012, but they're already passed the 1,000 barrels/year mark (they hit 935 barrels in the 7 months they were open in 2012). Think that's impressive? Well, they are currently underway with an expansion that will allow them to brew 4,000 barrels a year. Oil Man is the newest member of their Double Black Series, an 11% ABV Russian Imperial Stout aged in Breckenridge Bourbon barrels for 7+ months. This stout pours black as night with a light tan head and notes of dark fruit, roasted malts, and bourbon leaping out of the glass. Lots of bourbon up front on the palate with the accompanying heat, followed by chocolate, roast, caramel, and an oaky dry finish.
Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout Cherry Rye
The newest addition to the vaunted Bourbon County Brand Stout line, Cherry Rye is the product of aging their base stout in rye whiskey barrels and adding in whole Michigan cherries. It pours dark, but with a slight red hue and a rapidly dissipating head. Cherry Rye smells like chocolate cherry cake with some bourbon drizzled over the top. The sweetness and slight tartness of the cherries pairs well with the rye spices. Definitely a sipper at 13.7% ABV, this beer was all but made to pair with a slice of cherry pie. Now to get this beer on tap at every late-night diner across the country...
Odell Brewing Company - Lugene
Odell's tribute to the farmer that picks up their spent grain to feed his dairy cows, Lugene is brewed with milk chocolate and milk sugar (lactose). A subtle nose of roasted grains, coffee, chocolate, and sweetness rises out of the thin tan head. It has a nice thick mouthfeel, almost creamy, similar to what you'd expect from a glass of milk and Hershey's syrup. It doesn't quite taste like an adult chocolate milk, but it's not far off. There's quite a lot of sweetness to this stout, almost like cotton candy, but manages to finish dry with a slight bitterness. We're happy Odell decided to add this one to their seasonal releases!
About the Author: Sean Buchan covers the Denver craft beer scene for Denver off the Wagon in addition to doing freelance photography for Colorado breweries. You can also view his beer photography on his blog, Beertographer, here.
Samples were provided for review consideration from Perennial Artisan Ales, New Belgium Brewing Company, Elevation Beer, and Goose Island.