The dark side of beer

You don’t like stouts because they’re too heavy, you say?

Well I say you’re missing out.

Stouts are wonderfully dark and flavorful. Chocolate, coffee, and vanilla are rarely seen in other styles, but make regular appearances in stouts.

There are many variations of stouts, including dry, milk, and oatmeal (to name just a few). Imperial and barrel-aged stouts in particular have gained momentum over the last half-decade or so.

Stouts are closely related to porters. Porters are also dark, but not quite as dark as stouts. It’s said that porter was the first mass-produced and packaged beer style in Europe. Then in 1817, Daniel Wheeler figured out how to roast malt until it turned black. Thus “black patent” malt was born, and stouts started to branch from the porter family tree. Few local porters exist, though New Province Brewing Company in Rogers thankfully made Yeoman Porter a part of its regular, year-round lineup.

Homebrewers usually find success with stouts because of their forgiving nature. Layers of intense flavors can hide imperfections fairly well. Off flavors such as diacetyl (a buttery compound) and acetaldehyde (think green apple) often ruin delicate blond or pale ales, but can be tolerated to a certain extent in stouts.

Photo: Todd Gill

That’s not to say brewing a world-class stout is easy, however. It takes technical skill and a terrific command of ingredients and recipe formulation. The foundation for stouts tends to be black, chocolate, and crystal malts – along with roasted barley and specialty ingredients such as oats, rye, and wheat.

Some of the most popular beers in America are stouts. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, and Prairie Bomb! regularly appear on “best beers” lists and command top dollar at retail. Imperial stouts – which can boast ABVs in the double digits – seemingly get most of the attention these days.

There are several local examples, though most are only available on tap where they’re made.

Apple Blossom Hazy Morning Coffee Stout – It’s occasionally available on nitrogen, which gives it a smooth and creamy mouth feel.

Bentonville Brewing Company Roundabout Stout – A fairly simple and straightforward example of the style.

Bike Rack Angus Chute American Stout – This one is well rounded, with chocolate notes and just a hint of smoke.

Columbus House Spottie Ottie – The name is enough to make you want to try this one. The 7.2% ABV is hidden very well.

Core Oatmeal Stout – Oats create a silky body with a touch of sweetness.

Fossil Cove Oatty Stout – Ben Mills’ version is 6.9% ABV, so proceed with caution.

Ozark Barrel-aged Double Cream Stout – Bourbon, oak, and vanilla combine to create an intensely pleasurable drinking experience. Try to find some if it’s still around. If not, check out the Onyx Coffee Stout.

Saddlebock Chocolate Stout – As the name implies, this one is dominated by chocolate.

If you’re accustomed to drinking paler styles of beer, you might be pleasantly surprised by the complex nature of stouts. Fortunately, there are several opportunities to experiment with the dark side of beer right here in Northwest Arkansas.