WITH REVIEW: ‘Tis the season for richer, fuller beers

Photo: Brian Sorensen

The lights are twinkling and the cash registers are ringing. Christmas time is upon us. This means different things to different people, but one thing is for certain – richer, fuller beers will soon take their place at the holiday table.

Some of the best come from non-native breweries such as Anchor, Sierra Nevada, and Sam Adams. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and coriander dominate the season, though hoppy IPAs and barleywines are occasionally invited to the party, too.

The locals don’t offer many holiday releases. They’re much too busy satisfying the huge demand for their year-round beers. A few of their perennials, however, serve double duty quite well.

One of them is Saddlebock’s Chocolate Stout, available throughout Northwest Arkansas in 22oz bottles.

Chocolate Stout is pitch black in color with a khaki head that settles quickly. The smell is malty with a touch of yeasty esters. Sweetness and a trace of buttery diacetyl roll across the palate. Diacetyl is a yeast by-product that is pleasant in certain beers, especially English-style ales. It works quite nicely in Chocolate Stout.

The hop bitterness is mellow. Sharp roastiness from the grain provides most of the balance to the sweet malt. Chocolate is present, though slightly understated. The beer’s body is oily and viscous, not thick and chewy like most big stouts.

At 7% ABV, Chocolate Stout is sneakily warming. My face was flush and tingly by the end of the bottle.

Overall, this is a fine beer and worth the $5 for a 22oz bottle. You might consider pairing it with your Christmas desserts. It should go nicely with cheesecake or a fruit tart. A couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream could be dropped in a tall glass for a fun adult float. Heck, Santa Claus might enjoy a pint of Chocolate Stout with his Christmas cookies!

Cheers and Merry Christmas, everyone!

BEER EXTRA: Saddlebock just released a bona fide winter seasonal called Winter Daze – a “vanilla oak bourbon porter” that weighs in at a hefty 10% ABV. It’s available in 750mL corked-and-caged bottles at select liquor retailers, and on tap in the Saddlebock tasting room and a handful of Northwest Arkansas draft accounts. Brewmaster Steve Rehbock says it’s a beer that can be enjoyed now, or laid down for a year or more to age.

Brian Sorensen (@EBSorensen) is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds.