The singularity holding the universe of craft beer together is personal preference, and it is important to know your own tastes so you can work to refine or expand them. The Favorite-Five series of posts highlights the Beer of Tomorrow writer’s favorite beers.
Stout Day 2012 is here, and to whet your appetite for some rich and dark beers I’ve put together a list of my personal favorite brewed-in-California stouts. From creamy dry Irish stouts to the rich and potent barrel aged stouts there is a lot of variety to be had under the stout umbrella.
The Stout style has a long and murky history. Originally an off-shoot of porter, the most popular beer of the 18th century, stout was a product of advances in malt-roasting technology. The use of the new roasted barley in the 19th century gave stout its characteristic coffee and chocolate flavors that still defines a stout today. Stout is also a very broad style with many sub-styles; from the cold-fermented lager-like Baltic porter to the emergent barrel-aged sour stouts there is a version for every taste.
Hyperion Double Stout – El Segundo Brewing Co.
Perhaps my favorite locally brewed stout. Hyperion, at between 7-8%ABV, splits the difference between an imperial stout and a typical American or dry Irish stout. It is slightly sweet with a rich cocoa character and slight alcohol heat in the finish. A medium body and smooth mouthfeel lend to the stout’s drinkability, and the flavor profile really develops as the beer warms in your glass. El Segundo Brewing isn’t yet bottling, but you can find their beers on-tap all over Los Angeles. They also occasionally produce a cask version of this beer; I would love to try that!
Schwartz Stout – Golden Road Brewing
One of the first beers that Golden Road produced; this dry Irish-style stout is light and creamy and extremely quaffable. The stout showcases layers of the roasty flavors you’d expect, from dark chocolate to coffee beans, but it does it under 5%ABV and with a unexpectidly light body. The beer’s texture is luxurious though with wheat providing a smooth mouthfeel and the common nitro taps adding even more creaminess. One of the strengths that Golden Road has shown over their first year is a variety of flavorful session beers, and Schwartz Stout is one of their best. For a special treat you can occasionally catch a cask of Schwartz at the pub; often with cocoa nibs or espresso beans added for even more deliciousness.
Imperial Russian Stout – Stone Brewing Co.
Big imperial stouts are one of the more trendy style of craft beer currently, and some of the best examples can be extremely difficult to find and pricey once you do. Stone’s version is neither, and it is considered one of the hallmarks of the style. This over 10%ABV heavy-hitter packs rich roasted flavors and subtle nuance into your glass. It is a popular beer to cellar and let develop, but you don’t need an aged bottle to appreciate the weight and complexity on the palate and the distinct balanced finish. This is one of Stone’s most refined beers, and at around $6 a bottle it is an affordable craft beer luxury!
Velvet Merkin – Firestone Walker Brewing
Stouts, especially higher-alcohol imperial versions, make great candidates for barrel-aging. The smoky wood and liquor flavors that are imparted in the barrel match the dark malt character of the stouts. Velvet Merkin is Firestone Walker’s barrel-aged version of their Winter-seasonal oatmeal stout Velvet Merlin. The bourbon barrels boost the stouts alcohol content to a still very drinkable 8%ABV and lend strong vanilla and oak notes to the beer. It is tough to find this two-time GABF Gold Medal winning beer outside of the Firestone Walker brewery, but the rumor is the beer will see a limited bottle release in 2013!
Tart of Darkness – The Bruery
The Bruery is known for their industry-leading barrel program and their amazing range of sour beers, and Tart of Darkness showcases their cellarmanship skills. The stout is under 6%ABV and black as midnight with a bracing tartness suggestive of lemons and sour cherries. The roast flavors of the malts stand-up to the tartness and the finish is lightly funky and oaky. I really enjoy sour beers and this is a very unique example that hints at the vinegar-like Flemish Red ales and a fruity dark chocolate. I usually don’t go for beers that are so heavy on the “dark fruit” flavors, but I really enjoy Tart of Darkness. Availability on this one is up-in-the-air, but I’ve seen a few bottles around town so if you see it don’t pass it up!
These are just five examples of the plethora of excelent stouts coming out of California breweries, and they should give you some idea of the wide variety that exists within the style. There is a stout for every taste, and what better day to experiment with some different ones and discover your favorite that on Stout Day!
What’s your favorite stout? How are you planning on celebrating Stout Day?