Thursday, March 17, 2011

Four Stouts for Your Irish Fest

My favorite bar, and longtime home-away-from-home, the Moan and Dove, traditionally serves only one beer from 10am until close on March 17th: Guinness Draught.  I'm jonesing for a proper pint of Guinness this St. Patrick's Day, so it only seems fitting to do a rundown of a few classic stouts in its place. Stouts and porters  have a long  and incestuous history that dates back to the end of the 17th century.  They differ from typical ales in that they are brewed with roasted malt or barley.  The stoutest porters, i.e. the ones with enough alcohol in them to knock you cold, became known as stouts. In this vein, the Guinness Extra Stout I'll be discussing was originally known as "Guinness Extra Superior Porter." Even in the modern era of craft brewing, the difference between the two terms is still a bit blurry. I find the best way to deal with all this drama is to simply ignore it and down a few pints.  Who's with me?

Guinness Extra Stout - $3 (22oz)
Ahh, Guinness Extra Stout, the oft-forgotten ugly step-sister of the ubiquitous Guinness Draught.  As dark beers go, this Guinness varietal is a light, non-offensive stout.  Being fully carbonated, rather than a heavy-handed mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide like its brother, the beer feels rather bright and loud.  The mild chocolate notes, typical of stouts, are balanced by some metallic copper off-flavors.  The beer is a bit thin for a stout, but easily drinkable, and a welcome entrĂ©e for those interested in dipping into the dark side.

Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout - $6 (22oz)
Here's a perfect example of a stout.  The Shakespeare Stout is rich without being too thick or overbearing.  It has a mild creamy texture with a hint of dark chocolate, and its roasted malts give off some notes of coffee.  The easiest way to mask bad flavors in a beer is for the brewery to make it a tad sweeter, which in my book kills its drinkability. Thankfully, this problem is nowhere to be found in this craft Rogue beer.  It isn't overly sweet as the oatmeal adds a bit of bitterness.  It's superbly drinkable from start to finish (which, as I've noted before, is the best way to gauge a beer).  In short, this is a standout beer, a must drink for any dark beer fanatic. 

Samuel Smith Imperial Stout - $5 (18.7oz)
A tale of two beers. I was drinking a gooey, robust pint of motor oil. Dan was drinking a luscious beer that tasted of molasses, blueberries, and apple juice. Regardless of the particulars, I think both of us would agree that this beer is at the opposite end of the stout spectrum from Guinness's Extra Stout. Sam Smith's Imperial Stout is a high-alcohol, no-nonsense stout that is clearly hit-or-miss. 

Stone Smoked Porter - $6 (22oz)
Aptly named, this offering from Stone grabs your taste buds right up front.  The welcome flavor, reminiscient of smoked bacon, dominates the chocolate notes in the background.  The beer is thankfully not very sweet, but feels wet and smooth on your palate. The beer's flavors are almost entirely up front, leaving little aftertaste.  A clear second in this tasting, and a must for fans of German Rauchbiers.

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