If you love dark beer, you probably find yourself drinking quite a few strong specimens—luscious barrel-aged imperial stouts and robust porters, rich, roasty...and boozy. But what about the sorts of dark beers that you can drink by the pint all afternoon?
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I begged, borrowed, stole, and traded beer with weird strangers on the internet for 3 years until I had a pretty respectable collection. Dogfish Head sent along the 2010 and 2011 batches, plus a sneak-peek taste of the 2013 vintage. It was on: a vertical tasting of damn-near every Dogfish Head World Wide Stout that was ever made.
This may be the time when you can find spiced Christmas beers and hearty winter warmers on the shelves of your local beer shop, but it's also the season to really enjoy the rich, chocolaty flavor of porters and stouts...and their Imperial big siblings. But which are the best of the bunch? And what should you eat with this style of beer?
The most popular tourist destination in Ireland? Nope, not the Book of Kells at Trinity College or the Blarney Castle. It's the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. Situated on St. James Street in an industrial complex overlooking the rest of the city, this is where Guinness has been brewed since the stout's inception in 1759. But to clarify, the Guinness Storehouse that's open to visitors is not the physical brewery; it's a six-story (pint-shaped!) museum full of interactive exhibits explaining the Guinness brewing process and its Irish heritage.
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. Some hit the mark, others...don't. Here we've pulled together 5 of the best new stouts from across the country.
For anyone under the assumption that New Hampshire, the geographically conjoined twin of Vermont—America's greenest state; the neo-hippie birthplace of Ben and Jerry's and Phish—would produce anything but some of the baddest-ass beer in the country, I must correct you. And you're lucky I'm the one doing it, because if New Hampshire were here, she'd probably be a whole lot less polite about it.
I'll drink a stout any day of the year, but it's impossible to argue with dark beer in winter. Considering stresses that can accompany December, you're forgiven for reaching for stouts with a bit more nerve-soothing booze than usual. Enter imperial stout, or as I like to describe it to Irish stout loyalists: "three Guinnesses in one glass."
There are many myths swirling around the origins and evolution of porter and stout. First there is the notion that stout and porter refer to quite different styles; another holds that these beers were always dark, while a third tradition relies on the 'three threads' story to give porter an origin myth. All these tales are largely—and in some cases entirely—untrue.
Ska Brewing Company of Durango, Colorado, is on a campaign to encourage year-round stout drinking: they're releasing a new stout for each of the four seasons. Will that mean citrusy stouts for summer and peppermint stouts for winter? We'll see, but I like the idea of adapting the style for every type of weather. The first release is this Saturday, 9/22, and it's a milk stout brewed with ancho, guajillo, and Anaheim chiles, plus cocoa nibs, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon. Ska's Autumnal Mole Stout will be available everywhere Ska is distributed.
Given my affinity for holidays that downplay god and family in favor of beer and whiskey, you might think that I go all out for St. Patrick's Day. And for a few years in my late teens and early 20s I did try to get into the full swing of things with lavish celebrations featuring pots of gold and religious intolerance and green puke, but these days St. Paddy's doesn't even crack my top 10 list of favorite holidays.
If you want to try Black Tuesday, Kate the Great, Sexual Chocolate, Dark Lord, Surly Darkness, or a number of other great "cult" imperial stouts, you should probably prepare yourself for the possibility of waiting in line on release day, trolling Internet forums looking for trades, buying lottery tickets in hopes of winning a chance to buy a bottle, or paying incredibly inflated prices on eBay. But rest assured, there are plenty of top-tier imperial stouts available that require a lot less hoop-jumping to snag a bottle.
I have a long history with The Abyss from Oregon's Deschutes Brewery. Their most recent release of this deep, dark beer was the 6th edition, and I've been enjoying it almost that long. But all too often I'd crack a bottle and think: this should be saved. This bottle could get better with proper storage and a little time. But what exactly would happen to it? I couldn't say. So last year, I tucked my bottle back into the depths of the fridge and forgot about it.
Warming up with a homebrewed Russian Imperial Stout is the perfect way to end a chilly winter day. Rich roasted coffee and chocolate flavors are predominate in this dark and heavy beer style. The hop character can be mild or assertive, but it is always overshadowed by the massive roasty malts and warming alcohol. The high ABV and the large amount of specialty dark grains make this style a little more difficult to homebrew correctly than many of the other beer recipes we've looked at so far, but I'll walk you through it today.
Canadian Breakfast Stout is the second installment in the 750-mL Backstage series from Founders. The maple syrup Bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout, which had previously only seen limited draft availability, is currently ranked as the third most popular beer on BeerAdvocate.com. Its October release was greeted with reports of multiple block-long lines outside bottle shops, people paying north of $100 a bottle on eBay, and other general foolishness. That caliber of irrational reaction isn't uncommon anymore for some of craft beer's most sought-after releases, but was it justified?
Of course this is a gimmick, meant as an impulse-buy to be tucked in the toe of a Christmas stocking, but the beer's not bad. A savory, roasty stout with a meaty side, Ridgeway's Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout reminded us of coffee-rubbed ribs, and in a good way.
This year's winter variety pack from Sam Adams includes the standards—Holiday Porter, Old Fezziwig, Winter Lager, and Chocolate Bock, plus a new coffee stout made with Sumatran coffee beans. It's certainly not the richest, roastiest stout you'll find, but it's pleasantly mouthfilling and offers a a nice coffee-and-cocoa flavor.
While I've heard some people say dark beers are not for summertime, for me nothing pairs better with a grilled steak than a Dry Irish Stout. The low final gravity of the Dry Stout creates a light finish on the tongue, while the roasted coffee flavors complement food cooked over charcoal.
This special seasonally-produced stout from Schlafly Beer in St. Louis pours a nearly-opaque mahogany with a milk-chocolate-colored head. It's rich with sweet mocha flavor and a slightly nutty roast.
We tasted 23 of the strongest, darkest beers we could find and discovered that quite a few imperial stouts deserve to be on our list of favorite beers. Are they worth traveling across the country for? Could be.
Oatmeal? Check. Lactose? Yep. Espresso? Why not? You can add all kinds of ingredients to a stout. This week, your Serious Beer team tasted a wide variety of stouts from American and Canadian craft brewers so we could let you know which ones are delicious.