One thing you need to know about beer geeks is that we like to subject others to our endless stream of knowledge on all things ale. Taking this one step further we like to use our friends like laboratory mice and subject them to various tasting experiments –oh wait maybe that is just me. Well either way I had so much fun with my blind test taste of craft versus commercial beers that I decided to put people to the test with their stouts.
The Great Dark Beer Taste Test consisted of a selection of 9 stouts representing various styles –Oatmeal, Foreign Extra, American and Russian Imperial- and different brewing regions –Canada, US and UK. I wanted to see if people could taste the regional and stylistic differences in this most robust of beer styles. Before I continue with my analysis of the evening I would like to proffer this little pearl of wisdom; nine is too many stouts to sample in one sitting so do not try this at home. Despite this error in estimating my alcohol tolerance I think the evening offered some interesting insights but first let me provide a little information on the stout styles, the contenders, the tasters and the taste test:
Oatmeal Stout – A very dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavour.
Foreign Extra Stout – A very dark, moderately strong, roasty ale. Tropical varieties can be quite sweet, while export versions can be drier and fairly robust.
American Stout – A hoppy, bitter, strongly roasted foreign style stout of the export variety.
Russian Imperial Stout – An intensely flavoured, big, dark ale. Roasty, fruity and bittersweet with a noticeable alcohol presence. Dark fruit flavours meld with roasty, burnt or almost tar-like sensations. Like a black barley wine with every dimension of flavour coming into play.
Southern Tier Brewing Company Mokah (American Double/Imperial Stout) 11.2% ABV; North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout 9% ABV; Spinnakers Titanic Stout (Foreign Stout) 7.5% ABV (X2); Fort Garry Brewing Co. Kona Imperial Stout 6.5% ABV; BrewDog Rip Tide Twisted Merciless Stout (Imperial Stout) 8% ABV; McAusian Brewing St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout 5% ABV; Le Bilboquet Brasseur Artisan La Corriveau 5.5% ABV
Leanne Fawcett, lover of Goody hair accessories and ardent supporter of the continued use of suspenders.
Brick Rodgers, audiophile unable to commit to just one hair band and fervent devotee to the use of macramé.
Catherine Carveth, ironic lover of Motely Crue and fan of rainbow coloured suspenders.
Delbert Davis, former drummer for the Shitty Beatles and proud sporter of a beer gut not requiring any apparatus to keep his pants vertical.
How it all went down…
In order to make this tasting as blind as possible I wrapped all the bottles in paper bags taping them tightly and covering the caps in masking tape. I let someone else uncap and pour the beer so I did not see what bottle was being poured, and we set out three samples at a time so we could undertake a little cross-comparison. Being the consummate beer geek I am, I asked (coerced) everyone into keeping notes on appearance, aroma, flavour and finish as well as make their best educated case at the region and style of stout. I provided the Beer Judge Style Guide notes on the style we were sampling as a point of reference. Then the fun part began the tasting!
Now for some of the broad gleanings from the evening, aside from nine stouts being too many. A lot of the character of a dark beer is contained in the mouthfeel. It felt a little redundant describing the deep brown/black colour with tan head, and often the stouts had very similar coffee and/or chocolate noses but it was in the actual tasting that the differences truly emerged. It seems like the style of stout tended to fall into two broad categories; the after dinner dessert like stout that was viscous, sweet, heavy and high in ABV and the more quaffable cold coffee, lighter-bodied, almost carbonated style or stout. Interestingly we all scored very well on guessing the region of the stout but a little more hit and miss on determining the style.
The top beers of the evening were:
- Southern Tier Mokah
- BrewDog Rip Tide
- Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
- St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout