Beer Chronicles – The skinny on stouts

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I have blogged previously on this site about my great love for Belgian beers. I love everything about dubbels, tripels, quads, and Trappists and am always up from trying just about anything in those styles.

My other great love is stouts, those luscious beers that range anywhere fairly dark brown to a syrupy, end-of-the-world black. Much like beer from Belgium, there isn’t any stout I would’t try at least once (except maybe Rogue’s bizarre “voodoo doughnuts” line of stouts).

There are a lot of myths about dark beers and stouts in particular (three of which are debunked here). The most common hesitancy I hear from some is that dark beers are “too bitter and heavy.” Bitterness in beer comes from most commonly from the addition of hops. In stouts, additional bittering can be added by the way that the malt is introduced into the beer. While it is true that some dark beers are bitter, dark does not always equal bitter. Milk stouts, cream stouts, and oatmeal stouts are not usually as bitter as an imperial stout or a Russian imperial stout.

The magazine Men’s Journal recently published a list of what they consider to be the “20 Best Stouts in the World.” You can click on the link above, read their list, and consider their rationale for each choice. For those in a pinch for time here are the beers on the list

  1. Victory Brewing Donnybrook Stout
  2. Beamish Irish Stout
  3. Deschutes Obsidian Stout
  4. Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout
  5. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
  6. Perennial Artisan Ales Abraxas
  7. AleSmith Speedway Sout
  8. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
  9. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
  10. Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin
  11. Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout
  12. Paper City Riley’s Stout
  13. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
  14. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
  15. Left Hand Milk Stout
  16. Lion Stout
  17. Gun Hill Void of Light
  18. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout
  19. Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout
  20. Surly Brewing Darkness

For the record, I have tried nine of the 20 beers on this list. Of that nine stouts on their list, I would argue that five of them belong on the list with zero quarrels (Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, Great Divide Yeti, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout, Sam Smith’s Oatmeal). The other four I have tried (Deschutes, Beamish, Lion, Rogue) are, for one reason or another, not among my favorites for their styles.

Personally, I’m having trouble taking seriously a list that purports to be “the best stouts” that dares to leave off Oskar Blues Ten Fidy and especially North Coast’s Old Rasputin. The former is the best “stout in a can” on the market and the latter is a world-class Russian imperialthat can be had regularly for under $3.00. Seriously! God bless ‘Merica.

I have to quibble a bit with putting “whale beers” like Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and Founders KBS on the list. That is not to take anything away from either beer. I’m sure they are both transcendent brews. However, due to a highly limited release schedule and ridiculously high demand, one can be a seriously devoted craft beer fan and never even lay eyes on a bottle of either beer. The beer newbie would be better served by a list that includes mostly beer with a wider distribution. Old Rasputin and Ten Fidy could easily replace the Goose Island and Founders. Schlafly’s Oatmeal Stout or the Breckenridge 72 Imperial Chocolate Cream Stout would also be good choices.

The Rogue Shakespeare was great when it came out in the late 80s/early 90s. It was a good one to get in the late 90s when the choice of quality oatmeal stouts on the market was pretty much nil. I think time has passed it by now. It could easily be replaced by beers such as Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout or Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout.

Those quibbles aside, if you are holding back on getting into stout style beers because you think you can’t handle how “heavy” or “bitter” they might be, never fear. Go to your local bottle shop, start with something like Left Hand’s Milk Stout Nitro or Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and you will be on your way.

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