DRAFT PICKS: The joys of American Stouts

One of the joys in writing this column is getting to talk to people about their beer explorations.

Once folks get off the “industrial” beer track, and start slowly feeling their way along new paths, there is a lot of good experiences ahead.

Recently, a visitor to the office asked me what I thought about stout ales. This, in itself, was an unexpected question considering my well-pronounced proclivity for stouts and “heavier” ales.

Nevertheless, the query opened the door for a fun and interesting exchange during which my visitor noted: “I never thought I’d like the ‘fancy’ beers such as stouts. I thought they’d be too thick and oily. I was wrong. They are simply full of flavor.”

Let’s spend a few minutes talking stouts - specifically American Stouts.

English and Irish stouts are well known around the globe, and especially appreciated on their home turf.

For drinkers of more light and airy lagers, these stouts can be quite ...er ...threatening.

Not so, scouts. Not so.

Enter American Stouts.

Brewers of this exceptional and exciting genre of beer have taken the more traditional stout ale and modified it just enough to make it more palatable to the larger number of American drinkers. This is not only good business, it also offers a more gentle transition into what some may think a strange style of beer. (Not me!)

American brewers adapted stouts to the American palate by hopping it up much more than is appreciated across the pond. They also added ingredients that would complement and benefit the more roasted malty flavor that fills a traditional stout - a more caramel-packed flavor palate.

English Stouts tend to be a bit more “smoky” than are American Stouts.

Brewers in the states “fortify” the flavor list with deep, dark chocolate, and wonderfully exotic coffees.

And then there is the barrel aging - bourbon, whiskey, or rum ...and even Chardonnay! Even with the barrel aging, booziness or a strong alcohol presence generally isn’t felt to any great degree, although there is often a little bite on swallowing.

To be sure, American stouts aren’t the kind of beer you’re going to be knocking back after a hard session re-roofing the house or mowing the lawn.

There is, in truth, a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Still, summer or winter, and American stout is just what the doctor ordered for you while sitting around a fire with friends, or contemplating the meaning of life with those closest to you.

The good people at Beer Advocate have listed the best American Stouts around, and the following list included the Top Ten as selected by BA reviewers Note well that Bell’s out of Kalamazoo ranks high and often.

  • Chocolate Stout - Rogue Ales
  • Chicory Stout - Dogfish Head Brewery
  • Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout - Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
  • Bell’s Special Double Cream StoutBell’s Brewery, Inc.
  • Sierra Nevada Stout - Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
  • Obsidian Stout - Deschutes Brewery
  • Bell’s Java Stout - Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
  • Bell’s Cherry Stout - Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
  • Mean Old Tom - Maine Beer Company
  • Dark Horse - Tres Blueberry Stout

Enjoy an American Stout soon, and try a couple of these fine brews.

And by the way, the Tres Blueberry Stout is simply and truly scrumptious.

Big Bad Baptist

Epic Brewing Co.

Salt Lake City

Epic has turned out some pretty spectacular offerings in the past. They continued to do so.

Baptist is almost pure black with a good head of decent beige foam.

There is quite a sense of cocoa at first sniff — and not so much chocolate as the raw cocoa. There is a sharp background scent of vanilla, supported by hints of coffee. There is a whiff of the darker fruits in later scenting.

The taste of Baptist is rather involved — a strong mix of coffee, chocolate and a touch of molasses (maybe more like brown sugar). There is certainly a strong whiskey presence. The whiskey tones aren’t sharp or biting as might be expected, but rather offer an almost creamy overlay.

This is simply a delicious beer.

Rich on the coffee tones, balanced with the chocolate hints, a touch of caramel sweetness, and just a smidge of bite,

It is not too heavily bodied, and surprisingly not too boozy despite an impressive 11.80 percent ABV!

There is nothing that kicks it’s way to the front here.

There is a lot of well crafted balance in this exceptional brew.

Very neat.

This is another brew I will be storing to see how it ages.

Gosh this has been a good week.

Siren Noire

Heavy Seas Beer

Baltimore

Oh, pleeeeease!

I mean, seriously.

It just can’t get any better (and yet it continues to do so).

Siren pours an absolutely luxurious dark, dark brown. Almost black, with tinges of lighter shades bouncing around the illuminated edges.

There is a thick, healthy layer of rich light brown/dark beige head — a virtual dose of “cream.” The head lasts long enough to make use of during the scenting.

Siren screams of thick chocolate and rich bourbon right from the get-go. There are strong hints of vanilla and just a tinge of well-roasted coffee. I suppose there is a little fruitiness, but it is certainly fleeting.

First wash is very much a blast of bourbon and chocolate. The scenting didn’t deceive! The bourbon booziness fades quickly leaving the chocolate and vanilla kicking around the mouth.

The bourbon barrel aging is very, very prevalent throughout.

I enjoyed a strong, “muscular” mouthfeel (and by “muscular” I don’t mean a guy thing. I mean this has a good, hefty presence). For some, Siren may be a little too “hot,” so beware.

I am definitely going to stock up on one or two bottles and see how well they age.

Simply yummy.