Once cooler temperatures set in, there’s no beer style as appealing as a dark, roasty stout. Sure, they’re delicious year-round, but 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 varies 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. Some stouts can be so creamy, rich and smooth, we’re essentially talking boozy chocolate milkshakes for grown-ups.
Bold profiles of intense flavor and high alcohol suggest longevity; they can evolve into even more complex and layered selections.
Within each of these key stout styles, a fantastic amount of experimentation and manipulation can take place. From herb infusions to soured selections and, of course, barrel-aged flavor bombs, the profile possibilities seem near endless.
From Bourbon casks to barrels that previously held maple syrup, molasses and even salt, there’s a wide world of oaky influence to be enjoyed.
Another great thing about stouts, especially potent and barrel-aged versions, is that they are 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, enjoy a bottle now, but also lay down a few bottles for future enjoyment!
Founders 2018 Barrel Aged Series CBS (American Imperial Stout; Founders Brewing Company, MI); $25/750 ml, 96 points. Founders CBS, or Canadian Breakfast Stout, is one of the brewery’s most iconic barrel-aged stouts, right up there with KBS. Part of Founders’ Barrel Aged Series and limited in release, CBS is an imperialized version of Founders’ Breakfast Stout, brewed with chocolate and coffee, that’s then aged in Bourbon barrels which recently held maple syrup. This is one that’s well worth the hunt, folks. Dark and brooding in appearance, it leads with intense scents of chocolate malt, roasted coffee and bittersweet cocoa that are hit with hints of vanilla bean, maple cream, caramelized turbinado sugar and boozy woodspice. Those notes carry through to the full, lush and smooth palate, with a creamy texture that’s carried by just enough carbonation. The finish is complex and enduring, and this is one for the cellar that will only continue to develop and evolve over the next five years or more. Cellar Selection. abv: 11.6%
Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout (English Stout; Samuel Smith’s Brewery [Tadcaster], U.K.); $5/550 ml, 95 points. This is a classic, well-balanced, smooth and easy to drink stout. Everything is in perfect proportion for immediate enjoyment, a change from the sea of delicious yet often incredibly potent and assertive barrel-aged domestic stouts that currently dominate the market. Deep brown in color, with a full, creamy tan head, this immediately entices with notes of chocolate-covered malted milk balls, roasted grain, toasted brown bread and light touches of peanut skin and sweet smoke. The palate offers more of those notes within a rich and full-bodied mouthfeel, balanced by moderate carbonation that keeps any cloying or overly sweet impressions at bay. Merchant du Vin. abv: 5%
Hardywood Park Kentucky Christmas Morning (American Imperial Stout; Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, VA); $16/750 ml, 94 points. This sweet, unctuous stout is brewed with local ginger, honey and roasted coffee beans and then aged in Bourbon barrels. It’s a perfect Christmas morning surprise for any beer-loving adult, offering up cozy and comforting aromas of spiced fruit cake, dried dates, fresh gingerbread cookies, maple glaze and creamy coffee. The palate is smooth and seductive, with great opulence, though it’s not overly thick or sticky thanks to the ample carbonation and warming baking-spice tones that help to keep the palate in check. The evolving finish takes your palate through a whirlwind of dark dried fruit to sweet spice and roasted coffee before finishing on a light whiskey-tinged char. Cellar Selection. abv: 10.6%
Avery Annual Barrel Series Uncle Jacob’s Stout Batch No. 7 (American Imperial Stout; Avery Brewing Co., CO); $15/12 oz, 93 points. This imperial stout that’s aged six months in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels is not for the faint of heart. It’s a potent and powerful brew, and one that has the stuffing to cellar nicely for the next 3–5 years, if not longer. Currently, it’s intense in aroma and flavor, with assertive and warming notes of vanilla bean, raisin, prune, date, molasses, burnt brown bread and oodles of toasty, oaky spice. Medium-plus in body, it’s slightly viscous on the palate, with medium carbonation to lift the slick mouthfeel and a pronounced warmth that remains through the close. Final flavors of bittersweet cocoa and baking spice linger long on the finish. Cellar Selection. abv: 15.9%
Captain Lawrence Fudgie the Beer (American Stout; Captain Lawrence Brewing Co., NY); $18/16 oz 4 pack, 93 points. Captain Lawrence pushed beer boundaries yet again with this year’s release of Fudgie the Beer, a collaboration with ice cream shop Carvel. Brewed with Carvel’s signature chocolate crunchies, fudge and ice cream, as well as milk sugar, this beer is childhood goodness in an adult glass. The nose is pure chocolaty-stout bliss, with pronounced scents of chocolate-covered malted milk balls, chocolate-coffee shake and chocolate-molasses chews. The full-bodied palate boasts a balanced richness and whole-milk texture, with more roasted malt, coffee and bittersweet cocoa flavors that carry through to the finish. abv: 6%
Hardywood Park Roots Series Raspberry Stout (American Imperial Stout; Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, VA); $6/500 ml, 91 points. Dark brown in color, with a dense, lingering tan head, this fruited imperial stout is made with Virginia-grown red raspberries. The bouquet is redolent of black forest cake, with attractive aromas of muddled ripe raspberries and bittersweet cocoa. The medium-weight palate offers more of the same, with soft hints of char and sweet smoke for added depth. The velvety mouthfeel is framed by ample carbonation, a pleasant fruity tartness and a dusty, dry cocoa character that lends a lightly gripping texture to the finish. abv: 9.2%