Continuing my quest to understand why I like the beers that I do and what makes one stand out over the next, I moved on from IPAs to Stouts. I didn't try nearly as many Stouts (10) as I did IPAs (33) in January, but I did begin to understand what separated one from the other and what flavors I appreciated and which Stout characteristics I could live without. As I learned with IPAs (read the full post HERE), that pair well with spicy foods because of their citrus and floral tones, Stouts also pair well with some of my favorite kinds of food. If you were to go to a steakhouse and order the biggest and most robust cut on the menu, it would be known as the porterhouse. That phrase comes from how well Porters (or Stouts) pair with steak. Whether a flavorful cut like a porterhouse or strip steak or you are enjoying a tender, but perhaps drier, cut like a filet mignon, there is a Stout that likely pairs better than even the best red wine.
Stouts (and Porters) have hints of chocolate, coffee, and carmel mixed into the heavy mouth feel you get when sipping them. But that heaviness on the tongue doesn't actually come from their heaviness in consumption. Most Stouts actually are less caloric than your traditional lite beer (and taste a million times better.) The mouth feel of heaviness comes from the incredibly malty center of a sip. But, that heavy feel usually gives way to a very smooth finish, almost like the last sip of a well froth cappuccino.
As with the IPAs last month, there were some winners and some losers. While I'd heard good things about Joe Mama's Milk Stout, it was by far my least favorite. It felt like eating milk duds and then washing them down with a Diet Coke, far too much carbonation. But, on the winner side of things were three Stouts that each, perhaps coincidentally, had very high ABV.
The first was the Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout from The Great Divide Brewing Company. I was a huge fan of this one and described it as "eating chocolate covered espresso beans with an incredibly smooth finish."
The second was the AleSmith Speedway Stout. Definitely had some of the smoked or dark coffee flavors on the front end of the first few sips but that lead to a chocolate middle and a smooth caramel finish.
And finally, the third was the Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout from Goose Island Brewery. This one was recommended to me on a lazy Sunday afternoon at my favorite bar in New York City, The Half Pint. And thank goodness it was a lazy Sunday afternoon. At 14.3% ABV, you're not going to do much of anything after enjoying this beer. But, enjoy it you will. The coffee flavors are balanced out with vanilla from the bourbon barrels it is aged in. The play of coffee to sweet is not quite a vanilla bean frappiccino, but it definitely sits heavier on the sweet side than the roasted coffee side.
All told, I am a much bigger fan of Stouts now than I was before I began this exploration. Pairing them with good cuts of meat or just slowly sipping them along side the Superbowl were a great way to continue to explore all of the complexities that go into each style of beer that are now available to those willing to go out and spend a little time to discover them.
Now, since it is St. Patrick's Day, only one question left: Where's my Gunniess?