7 Soul-Warming Stouts
There are very few beer buffs who don’t enjoy a good stout, especially once the cool winter months arrive. There’s little to compare with the satisfaction that a good, strong stout offers on a chilly day, except maybe a mug of cocoa—but why have cocoa when you can go with beer? The intense flavors and occasionally high alcohol levels found in stouts provide a fantastic warming sensation, soothing the soul and heating the body from the inside. Not to mention they’re delicious.
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 then there’s America. American craft brewers have taken the classic English or Irish stout to a whole new extreme, producing a wide array of styles. From dry, easy-drinking stouts to barrel-aged flavor bombs, the amount of creativity and experimentation that goes into these offerings is nothing short of amazing. Imperial stouts offer elevated amounts of everything: increased alcohols (about 7–12% versus 4–8% for others), full mouthfeels and moderately to aggressively hoppy characters.
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.
Though folks might worry that this style is too strong to pair with food, a robust stout is actually a great choice to serve alongside hearty fare like smoky barbecue, grilled game or thick, meaty chili. And let’s not forget about anything chocolate, for which stouts are a match made in heaven.
96 The Lost Abbey Serpent’s Stout (American Double/Imperial Stout; The Lost Abbey, CA). Lost Abbey’s beers are never shy on flavor or intensity, and this certainly lives up to that expectation. It’s a big, bold, black beer that opens with forward scents of roasted malt, fudgy chocolate, raisin, prune and licorice. Those notes carry through to the flavorful but surprisingly approachable palate, with light carbonation and a pleasing astringency that lends a chewy texture to the finish. Flavors of caramel, molasses, burnt brown bread, fig paste and mocha espresso abound in the mouth, ending with a flourish of Bourbon-soaked oak.
abv: 11% Price: $12/750 ml
95 Founders Imperial Stout (Amercian Double/Imperial Stout; Foundes Brewing, MI). Brewed with 10 varieties of malted barley, this is a well-balanced and complex stout that manages to go down smooth and (almost too) easy despite the high alcohol content. It pours dark as night, opaque black in color, with a serious mocha-colored head that shows excellent staying power. Rich, bold, dark-roast coffee aromas lead the bouquet, alongside notes of bittersweet chocolate, sweet smoke, licorice root and whole anise that carry through to the lush, creamy palate. A touch of bitterness lends texture and grip to the finish, with drying notes of cocoa powder, charred oak, coffee grind and blackened toast that linger long.
abv: 10.5% Price: $12/12 oz 4 pack
95 Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout (Milk/Sweet Stout; Samuel Smith Old Brewery [Tadcaster], England). Brewed using organic malt, hops and cocoa, this is an immediately attractive and extremely well-balanced stout. It’s sweet and chocolaty, as expected, with powerful aromas and flavors of chocolate-covered dried cherries, Milk Duds, s’mores, malted milk and roasted nuts. Hints of toasted oak, sweet spice and charred coffee bean add depth to the palate, with a faint mineral edge and pleasing astringency that adds texture to the otherwise smooth mouthfeel.
abv: 5.0% Price: $5/550 ml
94 Odell Woodcut No. 07 Russian Imperial Stout (Russian Imperial Stout; Odell Brewing Company, CO). The latest release in Odell’s Woodcut line is a strong, bold and cellar-worthy selection. Oak aged—like all the Woodcut releases—in new American oak barrels, it opens with intense aromas of bittersweet cocoa powder, roasted malt, charred wood, s’mores, raisin and sweet baking spice. The mouthfeel is full and creamy, with a slight boozy warmth that carries through to the finish. Flavors of roasted cocoa nib, coffee bean, toasted walnut shells, toffee and woody spice are plentiful and immensely attractive, with a grounding fruity core of fig preserves and black currant. This bold selection is absolutely delicious now, but should evolve and develop additional complexities with another year or two of age. Cellar Selection.
abv: 12.5% Price: $NA/750 ml
92 Smuttynose Big Beer Series Imperial Stout (Russian Imperial Stout; Smuttynose Brewing Company, NH). This bold, flavorful selection pours a dense, opaque black color, with a medium mocha-colored head and soft lacing. Upfront aromas of roasted malt, toasted spice, raisin, fig and dried black cherry lead the nose, with additional notes of resiny hop and charred brown bread in the background. Those notes continue through to the creamy, medium-bodied palate, with strong intensity and additional notes of bittersweet Baker’s chocolate, caramel, black coffee and cigar-box spice that linger long on the finish.
abv: 9.4% Price: $8/22 oz
90 Elysian Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout (Milk/Sweet Stout; Elysian Brewing Company, WA). Elysian teamed up with Pacific Northwest-based roaster Stumptown Coffee for this lush, creamy, immensely attractive stout. As expected, it is brimming with rich and seductive notes of milk chocolate and espresso, while hints of Turbinado sugar, cocoa powder and chocolate-malt balls dance in the background. The texture is full, yet fluffy, like frothed 2% milk. A mocha-cappuccino flavor hangs around long on the close.
abv: 5.6% Price: $12/12 oz 6 pack
90 Stone Coffee Milk Stout Ale (Milk/Sweet Stout; Stone Brewing Co., CA). Okay, Stone aficionados—get ready for something completely different. From the brewery that typically focuses on hop-fueled selections of great power and intensity comes this light, accessible, easy-drinking milk stout, the lowest-alcohol bottled beer Stone’s released in 15 years. Brewed with roasted coffee beans, it still offers ample aromas and flavors of black coffee, light licorice, bitter chocolate and burnt toast. The lightly bitter finish shows good staying power, with a touch of vanilla on the back.
abv: 4.2% Price: $2/12 oz