Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Stouts 101
February 26, 2004
Something happens to me every time I visit a mall. Besides keeping my wife’s shopping habits in check.
I wear myself out.
By the time I walk from one end to the next I’m damn near famished. Architects and designers must sit down and strategically scheme ways to drive us all into exhaustion.
What do malls have to do with beers, you say? Well, one of my recent expeditions down their endless paths led me to a chain restaurant to grab a beer and catch my breath. You know, the cookie-cutter establishments that tend to have the worst beer offering known to mankind. Where the selection portrays a list the 19-year-old kid behind the bar compiled of the beers he and his friends like to drink down by the railroad tracks.
There’s plenty more to gripe about as I reminisce. When these eateries do offer more than the standard beer fare there’s no way to tell what’s available other than by asking. If more than 2 or 3 beers are on tap, I want to see them written down somewhere. I don’t need to hear someone rifle through 20 beer names in 5.2 seconds. What ends up happening is I miss three quarters of the list and end up ordering the least offensive offering I can remember.
The final nail in my coffin of frustration is hammered into place when they break up their verbal list of available beers into domestic and imported groups. Like I really want to sit through an auctioneer barking like cattle call of yellow fizz to hear the line “And for imports we have…”
If one more pimply face bartender tells me that Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams is an import I think my head will explode. Can’t these chains put these guys though a single hour beer 101 class? Had the bartender I ran into at this chain taken said class I might not have had to sit through such torture. I couldn’t believe my ears when this kid rattled off four different styles of Molson yet Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams were completely overlooked. It seemed as if another wasted attempted to grab a refreshing beer was at hand. But then suddenly, like a streak of light from the heavens, this corporate hellhole of yellow beer, fried chicken parts and over done burgers presented me with the opportunity to order ‘Guinness Stout’.
When the beer was finally served, I felt somewhat redeemed and more importantly, ready to take a big swig. With my dark stout in hand ready to consume, a self appointed beer expert of the bar pulls himself away from his warm dollar draft and Keno game long enough to ask me “How can you drink that crap; it’s like motor oil” as his Marlboro dangles off his bottom lip. I love a good debate as much as the next person, but there is no way I am going to sway this guy over to the world of good beer. I just want to drink my stout and get back to my agenda, so I tell him it is an acquired taste and watch him grimace while he scrutinizes me downing this black liquid.
Stouts are one of the most commonly confused beer styles on the market, mostly because everyone assumes they are thick, syrupy concoctions. In reality, there is enough diversity amongst various stouts to please even the weakest of stomachs. Most dry stouts are fairly light in alcohol and medium bodied. Guinness Stout is 5% ABV while Bud Ice is 5.5%. Here is a showstopper fact for you readers that are dieting: Corona Extra Beer has 45 calories per 100 ml whereas Guinness has only 43 per 100 ml.
So why does the beer appear so dark so dark if it’s lighter than Corona Extra? The dark color is derived from roasted barley, not motor oil as the self-appointed Keno playing beer expert informed me. An even nicer trait dry stouts are known for is the heavy hopping. It is believed that this was originally done to preserve the beer. For flavor, dry stouts have a malty-bittersweet flavor with slight hints of butterscotch.
Another style is the sweet stout, which is also known as a milk or cream stout. These dark beauties have sweeteners added to them, most frequently sugar or milk sugar (lactose). This is done to offset the acidity and balance the hoppyness.
Oatmeal stouts were a great marketing idea. If you take a look at some older Guinness advertising you will notice several use the tagline “Guinness is good for you”. American readers may not be familiar with these ads seeing the food and drug administration would not let brewers claim the medicinal qualities of their brews. But during this era of touting beer as a healthy concoction, Oatmeal Stout’s were born. These beers are usually medium-to-full bodied with all of the typical stout characteristics. Sometimes they pick up coffee, chocolate or toffee tones.
There are a host of other stout offerings including Russian stouts, imperial stouts, espresso stouts, chocolate stouts, black cherry or cherry stouts, and the list goes on. You won’t find many of them in the greasy chain restaurants we all find ourselves in at least one a month, but I’ll still be happy to delve more into the exotic stout flavors another day. For now, enjoy this week’s picks for ‘The Black and The Beautiful’.
Freeminer Deep Shaft Stout
Freeminer gets my pick for a top notch dry stout. This bottle conditioned offering from Freeminer brewery packs a little more kick at 6.2% ABV than more commercially available stouts but is perfectly balanced between malty and rich nonetheless.
Commercial Description: Packed solid with malt, hops, and oats. Possibly the darkest stout of all time, a single varietal beer, made only with Fuggles hops, packed with bitterness, and brimming with aroma hopping, a deep and complex beer, worth taking some time over, and exploring the Hampton Court like maze of complex flavours. Initially, the dry, biscuit flavor of roast barley attacks the palate, soon to be replaced by the soothing Fuggles balm of rich smokiness, and then layer upon layer of malted oats, rich dark malts, and an unidentifiable eutectic finish of pure stout character. The definitive stout for the discerning drinker, dive in and explore!!
Sam Adams Cream Stout
What a fantastic beer. Beautiful deep brownish-red color that is borderline black. Great malty tones, coffee notes and hoppyness combine for the picture perfect bitterness.
Commercial Desription: First brewed in 1991 as an addition to Boston Beer Company’s year-round roster of beers, Samuel Adams Cream Stout is a classic beer style, which is itself the subject of much mythology. Samuel Adams Cream Stout is a true cream stout, balancing body and sweetness, and the natural spiciness of grain. The beer equivalent to cappuccino, Samuel Adams Cream Stout has a full-bodied, coffee-like flavor, with a sweet finish and a creamy head. Its deep mahogany hue makes looking at a cream stout almost as good as drinking it.
Samual Smith’s Oatmeal Stout
This is one of the first stouts I ever had and it is still one of my favorites to this day. This beer is unbelievably smooth with a hint of coffee. The sweet, malty flavor is well balanced. It could very well be the perfect dessert beer. The one and only down side is it comes in a clear bottle and as you all should know by now, light is a beer’s worst enemy. Do yourself a favor and avoid grabbing a six-pack. Instead, crack open a fresh case that has shielded the beer from the store’s florescent lights.
Commercial Description: Originally a drink for lactating mothers, oatmeal stout was described as nutritional on early labels. Oats are in the same family as barley, and a small addition yields great flavor. Popular in the late 1800’s, the last oatmeal stout was brewed before the First World War until Samuel Smith reintroduced this style in 1980. Almost opaque, with an unusually silky texture and complex, medium-dry velvet palate. Bittersweet finish. Serve at 55 degrees.
And my number one pick this week is…
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout vin. 2004
This Imperial Stout is a favorite of the staff here at TheManRoom. A high 8.5% ABV produces a strong smell of alcohol when opened. The palette of BBCS is very smooth, hosting beautiful chocolate and coffee flavors. This is achieved buy the perfect combination of roasted grains, not actual chocolate being added to the beer like some other chocolate stouts. It also features a dark tan head that fades quickly, leaving slight lace on top, an immense malty profile, some butterscotch and faded raisin aroma. To ice the cake a bittersweet chocolate tang jumps out towards the finish. Once again these guys from Brooklyn never fail to amaze me.
Commercial Description: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is the winter seasonal ale produced by Brewmaster Garrett Oliver. This highly sought after brew attains its strength by using the first runnings from two and a half mashes of grain. It is a classic Russian Imperial Stout, modeled on the beers made by British brewers for the Czar’s Court in the Nineteenth Century. Black Chocolate is a wonderful winter warmer and a stunning accompaniment to a chocolate dessert. Availability: October-March in 12-oz bottles, 15.5-gal kegs and 5.2-gal kegs Malts: two-row English Malt, Wheat Malt, Chocolate Malt, Black Malt, Black Barley, Roasted Barley Hops: East Kent Goldings, Cascade, Willamette