Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It is written by Garrett Cruce, a Cicerone Program Certified Beer Server.
Yesterday was the first day of December and while it might not quite feel like Winter, I think it’s safe to say that we feel like it’s time for Winter to come. The seasonal releases of barrel-aged or spiced or flavored or Imperial stouts (sometimes all of the above!) cannot come at a better time. Done right, a strong stout is a balancing act of roasted malts and sweet alcohol. That dance of flavors works well in these days that can start out frigid and end mild — they’re just bitter enough to be interesting and sweet enough to warm you.
Whether you’re standing in line for the latest release of Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout or breaking up a four pack of Dogfish Head World Wide Stouts, there is no shortage of strong stouts on the market. The stouts in this article aren’t going to blow up your Instagram feed or earn you a rare badge on Untappd, but they are delicious. And they’re on the shelves now!
Lagunitas Brewing Company, High West-ified Imperial Coffee Stout (12.2% ABV)
Hands down this is the strongest beer in this article, though it trails the aforementioned World Wide Stout by a few percentage points. But who’s counting? This is a total sipper. Brewed using coffee from Chicago coffee roaster, Metropolis Coffee and aged for more than 15 months in rye and bourbon barrels from Utah’s Hight West Distillery, this is one flavorful beer. These whiskey barrels have mellowed what was no doubt a boozy beer. I expected my first sniff to be slightly shocking with the sting of alcohol, but it never happened. Inhaling conjures up Christmas pudding — dark stone fruit and black strap molasses. Big flavor and no alcohol burn are the highlights of the sip. Despite having coffee in the mix, there seems to be little of its flavor remaining. Instead, there’s a huge fruity sweetness that makes this a fine dessert pairing.
Stone Brewing Company, Xocoveza Mocha Stout (8.1% ABV)
As we move through the stouts in this article, the ingredient lists get longer. Xocoveza was made with coffee, cocoa, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and lactose. The end result is more horchata than hot chocolate, but that’s just fine. The lactose — sugar derived from milk — makes this a milk stout and gives it a creamy sweetness. When you combine that with the big cinnamon bite, this beer warms while painting a picture of the sunshine and warm weather of San Diego. Unlike the coffee stout above, a good long sniff brings out coffee and cinnamon with a hint of char from the roasted malts. The horchata I already alluded to is tempered by an espresso coffee flavor. Though no session stout, this beer is lighter tasting than its ABV suggests. With all that cinnamon and sweetness, enjoy this on its own or even with some tres leches cake.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Beer for Breakfast Stout (7.4% ABV)
I just returned refreshed and rejuvenated from a two-night stay at the Dogfish Inn in Lewes, DE — see my July column about their craft beer tourism for more information about what they have to offer. My stay included the behind-the-scenes “All-Innclusive” tour of the brewery with other inn guests, a lunch with the group and our designated driver Dogfish co-worker, and culminated with an hour-long fireside chat with founder and craft beer evangelist, Sam Calagione. During my two days in the Dogfish bubble I heard one repeated refrain from “Uncle” John, who led our tour, to our innkeepers to Sam himself — Dogfish prides itself on using whole, real ingredients in its beers.
It’s on their new packaging and it’s particularly apparent in this beer. Are you ready for the list of ingredients in this one? There’s cold-pressed Guatemalan Antigua coffee, maple syrup, Rapa brand scrapple, molasses, lactose, brown sugar and chicory along with a diverse grain bill that includes a smoked barley. Just reading about this beer is a real doozy, and, if you’re adverse to scrapple like I am, perhaps a bit intimidating as well. Let me put your mind at ease. This complex, drinkable stout is definitely not the soup that its ingredients suggests. While I definitely got some of the meatiness in the aroma — more corned beef than processed meat — I also got a good nose of smoke and delightful Turkish coffee. The flavor all but avoids the strong umami flavor that meat provides, instead favoring a sweet and darkly bitter coffee and finishing with a distinct smokiness. This is a special release right now, but I hope that it makes it’s way into the line up like Flesh and Blood and Seaquench ales have managed to. This is one of my favorite beers of the year.
What stouts can you just not get enough of? Let me know below. Cheers!