The nights are getting longer and colder this time of year, so we settled in with four beers as dark as the 5PM sky in this week's 2 O'Clock Tasting. The original "stout porters" of 18th century London were brewed for their heartiness in the face of harsh storage conditions; with any luck modern stouts will keep us just as well-preserved through the depths of winter.
Our selection spans the stout spectrum, two sweet, creamy milk stouts from New Yorkers Southern Tier and Kuka, a standard stout (with an anise-flavored twist) from Michigan's Bell's, and a deliciously bitter imperial stout from the Pennsylvanian Victory Brewing Company.
Southern Tier's 2X line turns intensity into an art form, "doubling" the strength, potency, and flavor of several classic styles. This practice makes an interesting pair with the milk stout, a style famous for its candied, easy-drinking accessibility. At 7.5% ABV, 2X Stout already outdoes most of its stylemates.
The double milk stout holds back from the usual stout black, instead pouring the deepest, murkiest amber—like a glass of pure iced coffee—with a respectable khaki head to match. The nose lingers of a chocolate milkshake: rich milk chocolate, vanilla, cream, even a faint hint of the cherry on top. Taste follows smell as impeccably smooth chocolate, lactose, caramel and just enough bitterness to keep it all from becoming cloying. A perfectly well-rounded stout to please milk stout fans and doubters alike.
The brewers at Kuka take their inspiration, as well as their name from the ancient traditions of the Andes. By incorporating into their beers Andean "super plants" favored by early South American civilizations, Kuka fuse antiquity and modernity. And what better an Andean ingredient of explore than the coffee bean?
Our second milk stout of the day with a mathematical operator in the name, Kuka's Coffee + Cream Stout turns the glass a dark, woody, translucent red, with a thin head. The aroma's initial wave of roastiness had us wondering if we'd actually poured a mislabeled bottle of fresh black coffee. Images of chalky cacao nibs and frozen chocolate ice cream emerged as we sniffed deeper. The flavor proved more understated than the nose, though rich coffee flavors still dominated the chocolate and lactose side of things. Pleasantly simple, heavily charred, and light in body, this is a brew for those who love ground beans as much as malted barley.
The flightier beer fans among us might balk at Kalamazoo's most distinctive ingredient: licorice. Luckily for them, the polarizing candy's presence is subtle enough to go unnoticed unless one seeks it out among the coffee and chocolate.
Without context, the name "Storm King" might call to mind an '80s hair metal band. Though Victory's dramatically named brew represents an entirely different art form, it shares its passion for intensity, darkness and challenging complexity with the rockers of yesteryear.
The King pours an inkier shade of its own bottle, with sliver of cola-colored head. A strong hop odor, along with an ineffable whiffs of dust and copper leap out from behind an aromatic wall of dark chocolate and espresso. The nose alone announces Storm King as a massive beer. The taste delivers on this promise, with a sweet chocolatey opening, followed by coffee and hints of tobacco, and ending with a robust crescendo hop bitterness and booze warmth. Storm King is a stout to push your taste buds to their limits, a face-melting guitar solo of a beer.
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