Stouts: Welcome to the dark side of beer

An article by Jason S. Sullivan, 04-06-20

Hello, darkness, my old friend. Stout is my favorite style of beer. What is a stout? And what are some of my favorites? Let’s find out.

What is a stout?

Stouts can be intimidating. If you’re used to straw-colored pale lagers or hoppy IPAs, the audacity of stout can be almost offensive. Stouts are a dark beer. Coffee, chocolate, molasses, and oats are often the main ingredients or flavors. These “dessert beers” can be quite enjoyable. Often misunderstood or overlooked, stouts offer a unique experience. In a craft beer market flooded by trendy offerings, it’s nice to revisit a simple, classic, and iconic style of beer. Some of the best beers of the world are often stouts, and for a good reason.

Stouts are versatile. The flavors of stouts can provide a unique complement to a variety of recipes. They’re often used in stews, bread, desserts, and even BBQ rubs. Some stouts pair well with certain types of meals or desserts. Other stouts are a meal or dessert by themself! Many people are surprised that not all stouts are heavy or high in alcohol, though.

Most stouts should be enjoyed at a warmer temperature than other types of beers. The warmer temperature lets the flavors develop. While stouts can be enjoyed year-round, it gets too hot in the Texas summers to drink warm, thicker beer. Having stouts at colder temperatures than usual can be a refreshing treat from the heat. It’s a different approach to stouts, and it’s worth exploring.

Some craft breweries like to add unique ingredients to their stouts. Coconut or chili powder, for example. No, no, no. While I generally applaud innovation, not so much when it comes to beer — and even less with stouts. Save the gimmicks and trends for some other style of beer. Stouts are a classic style for a reason. It doesn’t need any of that extra garbage, which can affect the taste. Some stouts taste funky because of the weird, artificial additives or adjuncts used. I prefer the classic style.

Some of my favorite stouts:

  • Guinness Draught Style
  • Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
  • Murphy’s Irish Stout
  • Founders Breakfast Stout
  • Trader Joe’s Stockyard Oatmeal Stout
  • Left Hand Milk Stout
  • Lakewood Brewing Co. The Temptress

Guinness Draught Style (Ireland)

This may be the most famous stout (and beer) in the world. Even if you don’t drink beer, you’ve likely heard of Guinness. It’s the flagship Guinness beer. It’s said that 10 million pints of it are served a day. 

Guinness is synonymous with stout — and with Ireland. There aren’t too many brands, especially beers, that are so closely identified with a country. Is it the beer? Or branding? It’s probably somewhere in the middle, and Guinness does an excellent job with both.

If you’re not drinking this one from the local Irish Pub, pour it into a glass. There’s a proper way to do it, so follow the instructions on the can. Be patient, and don’t rush it. It’s beautiful to watch this one poured, and the results don’t disappoint. 

Smooth, rich, and satisfying. Sometimes referred to as mother’s milk by the Irish, people all over the words are quite fond of this beer.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (Ireland)

This one is lesser-known than some of its Guinness family members. It’s not an everyday beer. Instead, save it for special occasions. It has an enchanted mystique about it. This one has the unmistakable taste of Guinness with something extra. If you’ve only had Guinness Draught, or never had Guinness at all, you might be surprised at what this one offers. It’s more mature. There’s wisdom in this one, and it deserves extra attention. 

Foreign Extra Stout is not as sweet or smooth as some stouts. It tastes rough and of hardship. It has bite and attitude. Ireland is more than the lush, idyllic landscapes you see on Instagram. There’s a darker side to the Emerald Isle, and this beer somehow captures it. Was that the intent? Doubtful. Take a sip of this beer and see where it takes you. You may contemplate more than you thought you would from a glass of beer.

Murphy’s Irish Stout (Ireland)

I love Guinness. It’s an iconic beer from Ireland. If you can find Murphy’s in your area, do yourself a favor and give it a try. Like Guinness, Murphy’s is also from Ireland — albeit from Cork instead of Dublin. Murphy’s often lives in the shadow of Guinness. There is a time and place for both. When given the option, I usually prefer Murphy’s over Guinness. It almost sounds sacrilegious to say that. Forgive me, Father Guinness, for I have sinned. Repent! Repent!

Murphy’s Irish Stout is balanced. There isn’t too much of anything that overpowers or stands out on its own. People may think it’s too thin or watery. I disagree. Some stouts are one and done because they’re too heavy, thick, or high in alcohol. Murphy’s is sessionable. It could be an afternoon delight, a pre-dinner beer at happy hour, or even an after-dinner beer for a light dessert. It’s versatile.

Murphy’s reminds me of chocolate milk. Creamy and smooth, with plenty of chocolate and mocha in the recipe. It’s a fun beer. There’s almost a child-like, nostalgic innocence to it. 

The ingredients come together well. It tastes fresh and pure. If your only exposure to Irish stout is through Guinness, the taste of Murphy’s will surprise you. Try Murphy’s side-by-side to Guinness if you can. You may find yourself reaching for a Murphy’s more often in the future.

Founders Breakfast Stout (Michigan)

Founders describes their Breakfast Stout as a “double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout.” The audacity! Sweet nectar of the stout gods, indeed!

This beer has intense flavors of chocolate and coffee. If you don’t like either of these, you may not enjoy this beer quite as much. Now, if you enjoy both of these, you’re in for a treat. It has a thick, oily feel to it — which tastes better than it sounds. The taste lingers on your tongue after each sip. It’s slightly bitter, like fresh black coffee or espresso. The sweetness from the chocolate soon follows and takes over from there. 

My first Breakfast Stout of the season was on a cold, rainy night in late October. The beer was a fine complement to the weather. The only thing missing was a cozy fire in the fireplace to enhance the mood. The boozy escapade from my nonic class had the same warming effect as a mug of rich hot cocoa. Satisfying. Savory. Special. 

Founders Breakfast Stout is as near perfect as you can get. It’s excellent. I reckon it might be in my top 5 beers of all time. It’s an incomparable offering from a brewery with no shortage of impressive beers. It’s a beer fit for a king, but available to peasants like us. Find this one near you, and savor it.

Trader Joe’s Stockyard Oatmeal Stout (California)

You may know Trader Joe’s for its “Two Buck Chuck” wines or its line of tasty foods and snacks. Trader Joe’s also has a variety of beers that are worth exploring. 

My favorite from Trader Joe’s is their Stockyard Oatmeal Stout. This is an inexpensive beer that rivals ones at a much higher price. The local Trader Joe’s offers a six-pack for around $6.50, or $1.10 each if you’d like to buy a single bottle. Don’t let the price fool you. You won’t find a better stout at this price. You might not find a better beer at this price. This is a solid beer that is as good, or better, than many stouts I’ve had. It’s also very approachable. It’s a simple beer. You don’t need to be a beer nerd or connoisseur to enjoy this one. This could be a proper introduction to stouts if you’ve never had one.

This beer is balanced. A little of this and that. Everything in moderation. Chocolate. Coffee. Oats. Dried fruit. Nice chewy mouthfeel, appearance, and head. The right amount of carbonation and alcohol. I have no complaints about this beer. (Other than the closest Trader Joe’s is 20 miles from my house.) It’s an outstanding representation of the stout family. It deserves a spot in your regular rotation — if there is a Trader Joe’s near you!

Left Hand Brewing Co. Milk Stout – Nitro (Colorado)

Some stouts pair well with dessert. This beer is dessert! Silky, smooth, and decadent. The first sip is like a warm, gooey brownie fresh from the oven. [How is that even possible?] It’s not too sweet, though. There’s plenty of chocolate, but it’s balanced. 

Unless you’re lucky enough to find this one on draft, it’s available in bottles or cans. If you have the choice, choose cans for this one. It’s creamier and smoother while producing a frothy, pillowy head.

My only complaint with this one is that it’s almost too good. I rarely have a second helping of dessert, and this beer is too much of a dessert to have more than one in a single sitting. But that’s the only complaint. This is a damn fine beer and quite enjoyable. The stouts gods surely approve of this one.

Lakewood Brewing Co. The Temptress (Texas)

As an Imperial Milk Stout that clocks in at 9.1%, it’s higher in alcohol content than everything else on this list. The alcohol is balanced, and not overly boozy — at first. This one sneaks up on you a bit. Sip on this one. Lakewood teases — “Take your time with her, and she’ll reward you.” Indeed. 

With notes of chocolate, vanilla, dried fruits, and warm, boozy afterthoughts, it’s rather complex. Dark and thick, soft and alluring — undoubtedly tempting, as the name implies. The taste lingers on your lips and palette. There’s an intoxicating seduction to it. As you can see, I’m starting to romanticize a bit. This beer is definitely one and done. I couldn’t drink two of these in one sitting. Too much of a good thing, but oh, what a good thing it is.

Another stout, please!

And there you have it. Welcome to the dark side. An introduction to stouts, and a few of my personal favorites. Did any of your favorites make my list? 

I enjoyed doing research for this article. It was tough. I had to drink beer and write — two of my favorite things. Cheers!

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