So I'm a little late with this one. Sue me. I have better things to do at times than write about beer. Like drinking some.
There's some disagreement as to whether stouts and porters are the same thing. They are made from the same basic ingredients and are both dark beers. There is some thought that stouts are stronger (i.e. higher alcohol percentage), and that's certainly true when you get to imperial stouts, but not so much with more "regular" stouts. Today we're just going to deal with beers labeled "stout."
A lot of the variation in flavor among stouts comes from the degree to which the malt is roasted (much like with coffee beans). The darker the roast, generally the more bitter, fuller the flavor. Stouts will sometimes have things added to enhance the flavor or body. Oatmeal most commonly, but sometimes coffee and even chocolate. Interestingly stouts can be brewed to have a distinct coffee flavor without the addition of coffee.
Probably the best known worldwide. It's not a bad beer, but compared to many good stouts it's a little... watery. It has that thick creamy head and leaves lace (that lacy pattern of bubbles) on the sides of the glass as it's drunk, both good signs for a stout. Has a slightly bitter, toasty flavor from the roasted malt and perhaps a little coffee flavor (but no coffee is added).
Murphy's Irish Stout
Another common, mass-produced stout. Sweeter than Guinness with a very thick head. Perhaps a slight chocolate taste to it. It's okay - I prefer my stouts a little bitter rather than sweet.
Sierra Nevada Stout
Sometimes billed as the best American stout. I'd have to disagree. Looks like a stout - dark with a creamy head - but tastes like... an IPA! I like IPA's. One of my favorite beer styles. But when I drink a stout I want it to taste like a stout. And to be honest, the IPA flavor of this "stout" isn't wonderful. Not bad, but there are many better. I just find this one to be a schizophrenic drinking experience.
Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout
Oatmeal is used in some stouts to give it more body. This is a really, really good oatmeal stout. Dry, slightly bitter, malty, toasty and even a hint of hops. This is one to sit and enjoy in front of an open fire. If only they would drop half the words in the name.
Rogue XS Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial stouts were originally brewed for the czars who wanted a beer of their own, not to be served to the common people. Or so the story goes. These tend to have higher alcohol contents - 7.5% upwards to nearly 20%. The Rogue XS clocks in at 11%. Rich, creamy, strong flavor (from the oats). A hint of coffee and chocolate in the flavor. Good, but pricey - around here a 7oz. bottle goes for about $7.
Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti
This is an imperial stout (9.5% alcohol) that has been aged in oak. Beers are typically best drunk fresh, so it's a little odd to talk about aging a beer, but there are some that have been brewed specifically to be aged, usually in oak barrels or with oak chips, but sometimes in used bourbon or gin barrels. The Yeti is currently my favorite imperial stout. Smooth and rich, with a very strong coffee flavor, despite there being no coffee added. Woody overtones from the oak. This is a great one to have with dessert.
Bells Java Stout
This one has a very strong coffee flavor. Not surprising given it's brewed with coffee added. If you don't like strong coffee, don't bother. The flavor is bitter, almost like coffee that has been allowed to "cook" in the pot too long. A glass of this starts well, but the slight "overcooked coffee" flavor builds up towards the end. Not one of Bells' better brews. If you want the coffee flavor you're probably better off with the Yeti above.
That will do for today class. Your assignment this week is to try a stout you've never had before.
Next time: I haven't decided yet. Maybe amber ales. Or barrel aged beers. Or something else.