Thursday, November 8, 2012

Stouts: Beyond St. Patrick's Day and Pints of Guinness

St. Patrick's Day will always exist as a day to get your Irish on, head to your local Irish pub, dine on fish and chips and soda bread and down some pints of Guinness while wall pictures of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett look upon you from the grave and the band at the far end is playing "Danny Boy" to a singalong crowd.

Guinness, the most famous stout in the world, has always been something of a marker.  You have one in your hand and you're perhaps making a statement that the standard light-colored lagers are too weak for you.  You might get a reaction from someone such as, how can you drink that?  If you're drinking on days other than St. Patrick's Day and in places other than Irish pubs, you're definitely setting yourself apart.  Some might even say you're on the road to craft beerdom.

There's nothing wrong with a Guinness.  It's widely available, quite drinkable with a nice smooth yet somewhat complex taste, and, surprisingly, fairly reasonable in terms of calories.  But there's a lot more out there beyond Ireland, and there's a great diversity of substyles and tastes.  Here are a few you should be able to find:

Bar Harbor Cadillac Mountain Stout 
This stout has notes of milk chocolate, coffee, malt, and, to a lesser degree, hops and caramel to the nose.  Tasting very much like it smells, with mild but consistent chocolate and coffee, and malt and caramel coming through on the back end.  It's fairly balanced and smooth, with good proportioned tastes that aren't overwhelming.  Almost like a mellow liqueur. 

Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout
Comes in a 550 ml (18.5 oz) bottle and fares from England.  Pours dark black with a bubbly beige head that is quite thick and puffy.  Chocolate, caramel, oatmeal, coffee, spice, malt notes on the sniffer.  Taste is rich, with a mix of oatmeal, chocolate, mild coffee, caramel, and mild spice (much like it smells).  It's smooth and creamy with almost a milk-like quality to it, with light bubbles and good thickness.  Superbly balanced.  Easy to drink.  Low in ABV.  A classic that's widely available and relatively inexpensive.

Victory Storm King Stout
Storm King has nose notes of hops, malt, coffee, and caramel.  On the palate, you can pick up hops, coffee, chocolate, some oak, and some mild spice.  Even as with a 9% ABV, no alcohol taste comes through.  Quite smooth, with a good thickness and creamy texture coming through.  One of the best out there for an inexpensive price.

Other stouts to seek out: Founders Breakfast Stout, Stone Imperial Russian Stout, Hoppin' Frog B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal-Imperial Stout, Old Dominion Dominion Oak Barrel Stout, Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout.  Guinness also makes a Foreign Extra Stout, which is much more tasty and complex than its standard stout.  It stacks up well with some of the other stouts mentioned. 

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