As alluded to in a previous post, this February lacked one of the Front Range’s best beer traditions: Stout Month. Started in 1994 at the Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery in Boulder, as an attempt to drive business during the slow season, Stout Month quickly became an annual tradition. It worked like gangbusters for the pub, turning one of the year’s quietest months into the busiest.
But Stout Month wasn’t confined to Mountain Sun or her sister pubs (Southern Sun, Under the Sun, Vine Street, Longs Peak); area breweries got in on the fun, as did liquor stores. It seemed like everywhere you went for a pint, stout was at the top of the list.
Alas, that wasn’t the case this year. The Mountain Sun team is closed up tighter than a drum and waits for sunnier times. A handful of breweries in the county have followed suit. And those that are open are focusing on flagship rather than experimentations.
And so we have Stout Month: The Home Edition. Spurred by the can-do attitude of my cutletsized consort, I looked to my local liquor stores for a variety of stouts to enjoy from the comfort of my couch, which seems to be the place wherever thing happens these days—14 stouts in 28 days; not a bad way to spend the month.
As you can see from the header photo, most of the stouts are commonly found in stores. Thanks to truncated brewing production schedules, aluminum can shortages, and liquor stores favoring known sellers over one-offs, the stouts available have a comforting familiarity. Chief among them: North Coast Brewing Co.’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (deep, rich flavors of roasted malts with a pleasant pop of bitterness courtesy Cascade, Northern Brewer, and Cluster); La Cumbre’s Malpais Foreign Export Stout; Founders Brewing Breakfast Stout; Telluride Brewing Co.’s Ski in Ski Stout (roast, roast, roast); and Finkel & Garf’s incredibly smooth and full Oatmeal Milk Stout.
A few discoveries: Innis & Gunn (say it backward) Scottish Stout barrel-aged in Irish Whiskey Casks (sweet, creamy, vanilla), Snake River Brewing’s Export Style Zonker Stout (silky with a hint of caramel and brown sugar), and Rogue’s Double Chocolate Stout. This one I had last year for Valentine’s Day, but my wife served it with dark chocolate cake and salted caramel Oreo ice cream, and the beer got lost in the mix. It’s good: Smooth and creamy chocolate levied by roasted malts.
Then there were a few to leave behind. Boatswain Chocolate Stout, a Trader Joe’s staple, is just too thin to carry the robust flavors required. Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout starts well but sports a rough finish. Upslope Brewing Company’s Oatmeal Stout packs a full mouth but falls short on balance. Once upon a time, Deschutes’ Obsidian Stout was a staple but now feels tired against the vibrant stouts listed above. And Finkel & Garf’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout is good; it’s just overwhelming. It’s a beer best shared among friends and sipped from a snifter.
That leaves Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout: The nose is roast and red fruit, the flavor is strong and punchy—roasted barley and dark chocolate are prominent—but the hops (Fuggle and Willamette) bring the beer into a perfect balance. It’s iconic in its approach and one of the best stouts out there.
Even better, Black Chocolate Stout is easily found wherever good beer is sold—at least during the winter months. Stock up when you can.