DRAFT PICKS: Stouts in the summer? It’s up to you!

While out shopping the other day, a reader stopped me and pointed out he didn’t quite understand my differentiating winter and summer beers.

“Beer is beer,” he pointed out. “You drink what you like.”

Indeed. I agree 100 percent.

Still, I think some beers are more suited to hot muggy weather, and others are best sipped in front of a roaring fireplace in the dead of winter.

There are no “laws.” It’s more a matter of ...well ...light beer with light weather, heavy beer with heavy weather.

Personal preference. Nothing more. (Although some beers were and are traditionally specifically brewed for a given time of year.)

Anyway ... our discussion continued on to stouts. He asked me to repeat a column I had written a couple years back regarding this exciting style of beer.

To wit ... What is stout?

There is actually still quite a bit of argument in the brewing world over what stout is, where it came from, and how it should fit in the larger list of brewed beverages.

Some more historically orientated aficionados believe stout is derived from the porter family and, in fact, is a type of porter. 

The story goes that there were different types of porter being brewed back in the day, and the stronger batch of the bunch was called “stout porter.”

There certainly are similarities between more hefty batches of porter and stout ales.

Stouts are brewed from well thought out lists of malts that are enthusiastically roasted. Some are started with roasted barley. Other ingredients include the old standbys — hops, water, and yeast.

The trick is, the grains used in the malting process are generally roasted longer than they are in the production of other ales and as a result tend to bring out the more flavorful, and stronger aspects of the brew. (In fact, stouts often have a bit more “bite” than other ales or lagers, sometimes boasting an 8 percent ABV — alcohol by volume.

There are quite a few different versions of stouts. Some include dry or Irish stout (Guinness, Murphy’s), imperial stout (three Michigan versions are Bells Black Note Stout, Bells Expedition Stout, and Founders CBS – Canadian Breakfast Stout), porter (some of best locally include Founders Porter, Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. My personal favorite is Fuller’s London Porter), milk stout (sometimes referred to as sweet stout. It does not actually have any milk in the recipe, but contains lactose, a sugar derived from milk) and oatmeal stout, which is gaining in popularity lately. 

I personally enjoy Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout with many meal menus, chocolate stout, coffee or java stout.

The differences in stouts generally comes from the grain list, the length of time the grains are roasted, and other ingredients and factors.

Stouts are most often not offered as a general, “let’s have something cold” beverage. 

They’re just aren’t the “sit on the deck after mowing the lawn” brew of choice. Today, stouts are more usually a dinner or after-dinner drink, often paired with more subtle, smoky foods (such as earthy, soft cheeses, smoked meats, and some smoked fish dishes). Many of the stouts, especially the oatmeal, chocolate, and coffee or java stouts, can be wonderfully paired with desserts such as plated chocolates, creme broulees, or just about any fine pastry.

Very, very often, new explorers are put off by the very distinct tastes of stout ales. Slow down and give them a chance. Learn to appreciate the distinguishing tastes and rich history of these somewhat exotic offerings.

Stouts are different. There’s no doubt about it.

Drinking a dignified stout for the first time is not at all unlike having a good double shot of espresso after having sipped on instant coffee all your life.

It can be a bit surprising, but if you don’t stick with it you’ll never have the opportunity to really branch out and broaden your horizons. (And truth be known, once you learn how REAL coffee tastes, it’s hard to return to the instant stuff.)

Same with the more heady, hefty, “beefy” stouts. You just must give them a chance. You can always go back to more simple lagers, but if you ease yourself into the experience, you’ll find all sort of new wonderful taste sensations.

Mad Hatter New Holland Brewing Holland

Now THIS is a summer beer!

Hatter pours a pretty amber with a touch of haziness. There is just a smidge of head that sticks around a good while.

First whiff offers up a strong shot of caramel aroma and then a defined background layer of more typical hoppiness - a little floral, a touch citrusy, and a bit outdoorsy. Nothing overwhelming. Very well balanced.

At first sip we find a very, very refreshing blend of citrus and floral hops with a more dry and delicate maltiness.

The outdoors quality carries through, and ends in a slightly sweet maltiness.

Hatter is well carbonated ... a good crisp, almost bubbly summer drink.

Buffalo Gold Premium Boulder Beer Boulder, Colo.

Buffalo Gold is a unassuming American Blonde Ale that should be totally acceptable to the widest range of tastes and preferences.

This golden colored beer is crisp and clear on pouring and develops a decent head of foam with just a hint of lacing when it dissipates.

The smell on scenting is mildly - how do I say it politely - boring. There are hints of maltiness, and a little suggestion of outdoors, but there really is nothing in the aroma that would necessarily invite you back for more investigation.

This beer is very ... neutral. That isn’t always a bad thing.

I had it on the deck after a session of gardening and found it refreshing if not too very exciting.

Buffalo Gold was simply pleasant. Nothing to write home about, but I wouldn’t mind another one under the same circumstances.

It is a fine beer for quenching a summer thirst.