There are very few beer lovers who don’t enjoy a good stout—year-round, sure, but they’re especially hard to resist once the cool winter months arrive. There’s little to compare with the satisfaction that a good, strong stout offers on a chilly day, filling your palate with robust and decadent flavors and sending that tingling warming sensation down to your core, soothing the soul and heating the body from the inside.
There are so many different styles of stouts available that there is almost certainly a bottling for any palate. Though they’re all flavorful, each will vary in intensity, weight, alcohol and overall drinkability.
Many consider Russian imperial stouts to be king, with their high alcohol content (usually between 8–12%) and intense, roasted malt profiles. Others might prefer oatmeal stouts, which are full bodied, with moderate alcohol levels (usually between 4–7%) and creaminess from the addition of oats to the mash. And let’s not forget the lush, mouthfilling beauty that is a milk or sweet stout, rounded by the addition of unfermented sugars, typically lactose. Add in some nitro bottlings (nitrogenated beers are carbonated with nitrogen—typically about 70%—as opposed to only carbon dioxide), and we’re essentially talking boozy chocolate milkshakes for grown-ups.
From key stout styles as a beer’s base, there’s endless variety, experimentation and manipulation that can take place. From beers infused with all sorts of herbs or added ingredients, soured selections and, of course, barrel-aged flavor bombs, the profile possibilities seem near endless. Taste around to zero in on a specific style, ingredient or technique you like best.
Fun fact: Many stouts are also excellent cellar candidates. Bold profiles of intense flavor and high alcohol suggest longevity; they can evolve into even more complex and layered selections. So when you find one you like, consider laying down a few bottles for future enjoyment!
Goose Island 2017 Bourbon County Brand Stout (American Double/Imperial Stout; Goose Island Beer Co., IL); NA/16.9 oz, 95 points. This vintage-dated selection is one of the most anticipated annual beer releases, with throngs of beer lovers lining up the day after Thanksgiving to try and get their share. The 2017 bottling is a doozy, oozing with rich, decadent aromas and flavors of chocolate sauce, charred oak, booze-soaked raisins and berries. It’s warm and inviting, with a deceptive smoothness that keeps you coming back for more despite its power and intensity. It’s a beer that many won’t be able to resist cracking open, but if you do manage to score a few, definitely tuck a couple away, as it will continue to harmonize and evolve magically with some years of cellaring. abv: 14.1%
The Bruery 2017 Black Tuesday (American Double/Imperial Stout; The Bruery, CA); $30/750 ml, 95 points. This beer, annually released—and invariably sold out—on a Tuesday in late October, is considered a cult-beer classic to many, and for good reason. It’s just about as intense and powerful a Bourbon barrel-aged stout as you can get—typically clocking in around 20% abv—and one that’s perfect for cellaring to witness the progression and evolution that a beer like this can achieve. This year’s release is almost a full alcohol percentage point behind the 2016 vintage, and it shows in its slightly more approachable character and less viscous and warming mouthfeel. Don’t get me wrong—it’s still big, bold and plenty boozy, with oodles of Bourbon-soaked vanilla bean, raw cocoa nib, roasted malt, mocha, caramel sauce and black licorice, finishing warm and spicy. Nuances of dried fig, date, cigar box, char and burnt leather tease the beer’s more mature and complex future. abv: 20.3%
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery Ruse Imperial Milk Stout Aged in Red Wine Barrels (Milk/Sweet Stout; Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, VA); $19/750 ml, 94 points. This is a powerful, flavorful brew that’s an ideal choice to bring both wine and beer lovers together over a glass. It pours an almost black color, with a slightly viscous look to it and a foamy tan head that falls fairly fast. The stout-like characteristics are upfront on the nose, with assertive aromas of roasted malt, milk chocolate, vanilla cream and roasted nuts, but they’re quickly followed up by scents of wine-soaked oak, black currant, plum and earth. The vinous notes continue through to the palate, at the fore of the sip atop the rich cream, caramel and chocolate malt base. It’s full in body and smooth—almost slick—in texture, with an endless and evolving finish. abv: 11.3%
Firestone Walker Mocha Merlin Coffee Infused Oatmeal Stout (Oatmeal Stout; Firestone Walker Brewing Co., CA); $10/12 oz 6 pack, 93 points. Firestone Walker took their popular, smooth and decadent Velvet- Merlin oatmeal stout and brewed it with the Colombia La Granadilla blend from HoneyCo Coffee Roasters as well as cocoa nibs sourced from Ghana, transforming it into this Mocha Merlin seasonal offering. A deep mahogany-black color, with a serious tan head, it’s loaded with intense notes of espresso, roasted malts, vanilla oats and fudgy chocolate-caramel brownie on the nose and palate. The medium-bodied mouthfeel is creamy, plush and oh-so-satisfying, with just the right amount of carbonation to keep it all in balance. abv: 5.5%
Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro (Milk/Sweet Stout; Left Hand Brewing Company, CO); $9/13.65oz 4 pack, 93 points. Now available in widget cans, Left Hand’s Nitro Milk Stout, America’s top-selling craft nitro stout, is not one to be overlooked. It pours with a beautiful presentation—and should be poured hard from the glass bottle, normal from can—as upward waves of foam cascade to the top of a dark black glass. The pillowy head releases initial notes of rich malt, roasted nuts, mocha and cocoa powder. The plush, smooth, mouthfilling palate offers more of the same, with lingering notes of vanilla ice cream topped with roasted cocoa nibs, toasted walnuts and espresso powder. It’s decadent, for sure, but it’s superbly balanced and utterly delicious. abv: 6%
Avery Brewing Co. Botanicals & Barrels Vanilla Bean Stout (American Double/Imperial Stout; Avery Brewing Company, CO); $13/22 oz, 92 points. This stout was brewed with whole vanilla beans from Tonga, Uganda and Mexico, then aged in Bourbon barrels. The bouquet showcases both, in upfront scents of fresh vanilla, Bourbon-soaked oak and peppery woodspice that waft from the dark pour, with background hints of molasses and raw cocoa. The palate is medium-full and flavorful, with medium-minus carbonation that just lifts the sweet, rich flavors of toasted coconut, malted milk ball, caramelized brown sugar, char and vanilla-spiked plum and date. Hints of sweet smoke and soft warming spice grace the close. abv: 10.7%