BEST STOUT IN AMERICA

Not to beat a dead horse, but these Top 10 lists are the shit.  We used to make jokes that we write for a blog that no one but our family, friends, and AA sponsors read, but people all over the blogosphere are eating these new posts up.  The good Brother Barley finally got to post a Top 10 of his favorite beer style, Imperial Stouts, so now is the time to post the follow-up with the rest of the Stouts in America.  You’ll see that not everything in this new world of craft beer has to be Imperial, Double, Extreme, or amped up to the nth degree to be tasty little beverages.

The ground rules for those (still) just tuning in:

  • We’re only looking at American beers. While other countries make some killer Stouts (I heard people like Guinness), our focus for these Top Ten lists is strictly Stateside.
  • Only one beer per brewery. Just for the sake of variety.
  • If I haven’t tried it, it can’t go on the list.  I thought about adding Deschutes Obsidian Stout since I’m assuming that will one day be my favorite Stout, but until my tasting time comes it’s off limits.

I’ll admit, Stouts aren’t my favorite style.  I certainly drink them from time to time and can always appreciate the subtleties of the style, but it’s usually not the first thing on my mind when I’m looking to enjoy a few pints (Unless of course it’s on cask, then sign me up).  I’m a Hophead (In case you hadn’t guessed from my drooling IPA list) so when I gravitate toward a Stout it’s usually of the Imperial variety.  While most Stouts employ a heavy use of hops, they also employ a heavy use of roasted malts and that tends to mask my favorite aspects of most brews.  For this list I’m focussing strictly on America’s Stouts, not necessarily the unique American Stout style.  Whether the brewer made use of rolled oats to give it body and depth, coffee for a burnt, roasted character, or even lactose sugar to add a touch of sweetness and creaminess, these are all Stouts that fit the bill.  Basically, if it’s not an Imperial Stout and it was brewed in this country, it’s fair game.

Last note.  This list is insanely subjective, even more so than the Top 10 Pale Ale list.  A quick peek at Rate Beer or Beer Advocate will show you that it’s tough to get a high rating while producing your everyday Stout.  There are a lot of great Stouts on the market, but there’s a lot of Stouts that hold extremely similar characteristics that don’t place them apart from their competition.  With that in mind, I just picked the Stouts that I liked best and leaned way more toward the drinkability side than anything else.  If I could sit down and toss back a few pints in all but the hottest weather, that’s a good Stout to me.

10. Goose Island Oatmeal Stout – Goose can be hit or miss at times, but they really nail the Oatmeal Stout.  Absurdly drinkable.

9. Dogfish Head Chicory Stout – Generally if I pick up a Dogfish label and read Chicory, St. John’s Wort, Mexican Coffee, and Licorice Root, I’m putting that baby back with all the rest of the crazies.  In this instance though the true Stout flavors shine through and get enhanced from a wonderful use of semi-exotic ingredients.

8. Harpoon Island Creek Oyster Stout – I posted a tasting note on this brew a while back and to date it’s still the best I’ve ever had from Harpoon.  This is probably a reach, but the oysters seem to give the beer an exceptional mouthfeel and lasting creaminess that I’ve rarely come across in a beer.

7. Highland Black Mocha Stout – Sweet and malty up front, dry finish, what more do you want in a Stout?  I’m told that Asheville, NC is the next big thing in brewing.  Judging from what I’ve had from Highland, I can see why.

6. Left Hand Milk Stout – Sweet/Milk Stouts vary from region to region and brewer to brewer.   Many people enjoy the sugary taste of the Sweet Stout side of the category, but I prefer the creaminess of the Milk Stout myself.  Left Hand produces a Stout that both packs a punch and offers a rich brew, but in the end you’re left with a creamy, chocolaty finish.

5. Mendocino Blackhawk Stout – Fruity and tangy aren’t probably the Stout characteristics you’re looking for, but Mendocino blends some cool flavors into this highly drinkable brew.

4. Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout – I think this is one of the most underrated beers you’ll ever come across from one of the most underrated breweries in the country.  Oatmeal Stouts are all about mouthfeel and the Barney is as thick as molasses.  It’s rich for sure, but a heavy hand of West Coast hops helps balance things out and gives it a nice bitter finish.

3. Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout – Once again, the red-headed step child of the Aleheads sneaks onto a Top 10 list.  I thought they sucked?  If you ever question the brewing prowess of Rogue, look no further than their Oatmeal Stout.  Earthy, crunchy, mellow – It’s everything you’d expect if you ground up Portlanders and brewed their remains.  You only need one word to describe this Stout – Smooooooth…

2. Tröegs Java Head Stout – Call it a Coffee Stout, call it an Oatmeal Stout, I don’t really care.  All I know is this 7.5% ABV, 60 IBU Stout is one of the best beers I’ve had.  It’s got everything I want in a stout.  Coffee flavors are present but not overwhelming.  Bittersweet chocolate, cocoa, molasses – All the dark flavors that I love in the style.  I’ve had plenty of Stouts that pack that flavor profile into every sip, but what really does it for me with the Java Head is the hoppy finish.  If there was any sweetness left on your tongue, it’s quickly washed away by a liberal use of piny hops.  Delicious.

1. Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout – Is the Kalamazoo the best Stout in America?  I have no idea.  If you like things that are awesome though, I think you’ll agree that Bell’s puts out one of the most complete Stouts you’ll ever find.  The reason I put Bell’s in the top spot over all others is because this is the best example of the American Stout style.  Period.  The end.  Complex yet not over the top.  Full bodied yet not too thick.  Tempered alcohol, slight roasted hints throughout, coffee nose, dark chocolate finish.  Need I say more?

There you go folks – Feel free to tear this list apart as you see fit.  The comment section is open…

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8 comments

  1. Magnus Skullsplitter · · Reply

    I like things that are awesome! I haven’t tried too many different regular American Stouts (like you, I tend to gravitate to the Imperial Stouts, which is probably my favorite beer style) but this seems like a pretty solid list. Next time you’re around the Big Apple, you should track down a Six Point Diesel. Solid offering from our good friends in Brooklyn.

  2. Solid list as always, here are some personal favorites in this style:

    -East End Brewing Black Strap Stout: Hard to get outside the Steel City, complex and bittersweet coffee flavors that lead you into thinking it’s an Imperial.

    -Bell’s Rye Stout: The ale masters from Kalamazoo liven up the stout party with tart cherry notes and spicy rye.

    -Belfast Bay Brewing McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout: http://goo.gl/xfgp

    -Magic Hat Heart of Darkness: A retired chocolate/ hoppy balanced fav from the soon-to-be-subsumed hippy ale factory in South Burlington, VT. The horror!

  3. Magnus, good call on the Diesel from Six Point. Quite the delicious brew.

    I read some great review of the Black Strap Slouch and would love to get my hands on some of East End’s beers. From what you’ve described in the past, that seems like a pretty cool little brewery. I forgot all about the Heart of Darkness and had no idea it was retired. That was one of my favorite Winter brews.

  4. Heart of Darkness was my all time favorite beer back in our college days, Slouch… I recall many smooth beer nights that were had with a few of those. Wish we could get it now!

  5. Great list, Doc. Much better variety than my personal Top Ten which is dominated by Oatmeal and Milk Stouts:

    10. Ipswich Oatmeal Stout: Doc and I used to get growlers of this in the halcyon days of our youth. It’s a raw, roasted, full-bodied brew from a nice little regional New England micro-brewer.
    9. Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout: Call me crazy, but I actually kind of prefer the Double Cream to the Kalamazoo. It’s a little subtler, sweeter, and easier-drinking.
    8. Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout: Duck-Rabbit focuses almost exclusively on dark beers and this is one of their finest. A great example of how to properly use lactose in beer without making it overly sour.
    7. Left Hand Milk Stout: See, Van Drinkale III, Dr. Ripped.
    6. Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout: See Ripped, III, Van Drinkale Dr.
    5. Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout: See III, Van, Dr., Ripped, Drinkale
    4. Dominion Oak Barrel Stout: The first beer I ever had at the Brickskellar after moving to DC. Notes of vanilla, bourbon, roasted malts and as smooth and tasty as a stout can be.
    3. Three Floyds Moloko Plus: Sudsy introduced me to this beautiful concoction. The bartender at the Map Room in Chicago claimed they were all out and then 10 minutes later snuck a bomber to us. A perfect milk stout.
    2. Deschutes Obsidian Stout: My first Deschutes beer courtesy of Beerford McBrewin’ who bought me a round at The Mill Casino in North Bend, Oregon. It was love at first sight (with Deschutes, not Beerford…he smells like vinegar and camel dung).
    1. Terrapin Depth Charge: A Side Project beer from Terrapin. It’s an espresso/milk stout that is absolutely out of this world. When it was on tap at my local watering hole, I would order at least three rounds of it on every visit.

  6. […] are particularly fond of Left Hand’s Milk Stout, which Doc somewhat arbitrarily ranked as the #6 stout in America.  Other Left Hand brews, not so much; their 400 LB Monkey has been described as “a […]

  7. […] have listened to the Commander. I’m starting to doubt the quality of Left Hand. Their Milk Stout is great. But their Sawtooth is average, and the Twin Sisters was below average. It seems the more […]

  8. Anonymous · · Reply

    Cadillac mountain stout from Maine belongs in the list, possibly as number 1.
    http://www.barharborbrewing.com/cadillac_mountain_stout.html

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