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The arrival of football weather usually prompts me enough to look a little farther down the beer shelves, past a brewery’s IPA and other hoppy offerings, in search of a full-bodied porter or stout.
It’s true these beers lean toward more robust, malt-driven flavors, often with some degree of roast, but there’s no need to fear the dark. The coloring comes from the specialty grains used in making the beer — porters are typically brewed using black and chocolate malts, while stouts often include black malt and roasted barley, but no chocolate malt — and give little indication how “heavy” the beer will feel on your palate.
In fact, many stouts and porters feel quite light on the tongue, while still delivering rich, complex flavors that pair well with seasonal fare such as braised meats and caramelized vegetables, hearty soups and stews and rich desserts, among others. Think of them as being like a black-gesso canvas on which brewers can play with a variety of flavors, ingredients and techniques.
Here are some wickedly delicious stouts and porters to try the next time you’re in a mood to venture into the dark side:
Released this week to local liquor stores and on draft in the tap room, Boulder Beer’s Shake Chocolate Porter is the brewery’s first new year-round offering in several years. At its core, the beer is a robust American porter brewed with five different grains, including Chocolate Wheat and Chocolate and Caramel malts, with added cocoa nibs.
It smells like that moment when you drop a straw into a frosty, stainless steel milkshake canister and lean in for a first sip; a slightly nostalgic blend of sweet chocolate and dry cocoa powder. The taste is dominated by flavors of chocolate and cafe au late, a slight roasty undertone on the finish and a light, velvety mouthfeel.
Enjoy it on its own, or pair Shake with meatloaf, one of Boulder Beer’s buffalo burgers or even with a chocolate sundae.
Left Hand Brewing Co.
Left Hand recently expanded its Nitro beers: Sawtooth and Wake Up Dead Nitro have joined Milk Stout Nitro. Through a proprietary method (i.e., they ain’t telling), Left Hand figured out how to achieve the light, creamy mouthfeel of a nitrogenized beer in a bottle without using a widget.
Wake Up Dead Nitro, a Russian Imperial Stout, benefits especially well from this treatment. It takes a leap of faith to upend the bottle vertically and watch as the beer gurgles into the glass — the quickly rising foam cresting precariously close to its rim — but watching as a cascade of nitrogen bubbles mixes with the brew is a neat bit of beer technology.
Once the beer settles, I get cocoa, tobacco and a whiff of spicy spearmint on the nose. The nitrogen really lightens and brightens this beer and lends an overall roundness that melds creamy chocolate and coffee flavors with a bit of roast on the back end, finishing with a warming bloom that hints at the beer’s 10.2 percent alcohol content.
“Generally speaking, dishes need strong flavors to accompany this strong beer,” said Emily Armstrong, Left Hand’s marketing and public relations coordinator. “As far as proteins go, I would pair it with beef or buffalo with a rich, heavy sauce or gravy.” She also recommends rich desserts such as tiramisu or cheesecake, or just pouring it over vanilla-bean ice cream.
Great Divide Brewing Co.
Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide is the latest in the rotating and ever-evolving seasonal incarnations of the brewery’s flagship Yeti Imperial Stout. Yeti is a big, complex beer in its own right, with a depth of flavor that encompasses rich, roasted grains, stone fruit and mocha. The brewery tones down the hops in its Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti and adds cocoa nibs, then ages the beer in oak barrels for a hint of vanilla that lightens the middle part of the sip. The overall effect isn’t unlike drinking a milk-chocolate candy bar, although with a balancing bitterness and a dash of heat at the end, thanks to added cayenne pepper.
The brewery recommends pairing this big beer with rich, bold flavors, like those found in chicken mole, grilled steak or even vanilla-bean creme brulee.
Oskar Blues Brewery
Oskar Blues’ seasonal Ten FIDY Imperial Stout is a go-to choice for a stout that consistently delivers a satisfying experience. It’s a big beer at 10.5 percent, yet is also very balanced and approachable. Although it pours dark as night, its sweet scent is reminiscent of a chocolate malt and the mouthfeel is relatively light. Notes of chocolate and sweet toffee mingle with a muted hop bitterness in the sip, with a dry roasty finish that keeps me coming back for more.
“I like to pair it with desserts like a salted chocolate truffle or some chocolate ice cream,” said Chad Melis, Oskar Blues’ marketing manager. “The Ten FIDY Bourbon Balls at our Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids Solids Restaurant are perfect, as well.”
Twisted Pine Brewing Co.
Twisted Pine’s Northstar Imperial Porter, an award-winning Baltic porter, is another highly anticipated annual release. Brewed with black, crystal and chocolate malts, as well as three hop varieties, Northstar features a sophisticated interplay of light and creamy milk-chocolate flavors with a roasty base swirling with notes of raisin and plum. It’s also a prime candidate to reserve a few bottles in your cellar to see how it ages.
Twisted Pine will release this year’s batch of Northstar on Nov. 8. In addition, there will be a vertical tasting of at least eight vintages of the beer during a special tasting and food-pairing event at the brewery beginning at 7 p.m. Nov. 7. (Tickets, $40, are limited. Contact the brewery at 303-786-9270 for reservations.)
“Personally, I like to pair Northstar with a big, juicy ribeye,” brewery representative Justin Tilotta said. “And a few years back we paired it with chocolate-covered bacon during our vertical tasting event. That was incredible.”
Upslope Brewing Co.
Upslope’s Foreign Style Stout started as the brewery’s first anniversary beer in 2009, and it was such a hit the brewery brings the beer back each year as a winter seasonal. (Upslope will celebrate its fifth anniversary Nov. 1 at the original Lee Hill location and Nov. 2 at the Flatiron Park brewery. Visit http://upslopebrewing.com for details.)
“Somewhere between an export stout and a tropical stout,” Upslope founder Matt Cutter said, the Foreign Style is rich with roasted barley and balanced by the brewery’s signature Patagonian hops, with flavors of dry chocolate and anise rounding out this satisfying brew. Try it with a roast or other savory meat preparation to bring out the beer’s roasty undertones.
Crystal Springs Brewing Co.
Doc’s American Porter, from Crystal Springs Brewing Co., is a robust American porter that exemplifies the style extremely well. It’s a more balanced “everyday” beer than some of the bigger offerings, while still exhibiting a nuanced flavor profile that brings together sweet chocolate, mocha, licorice and coffee with a pleasant bitterness and a warming finish.
Its lighter mouthfeel and palate-cleansing carbonation makes it a good choice to pair with a slice of German chocolate cake and other desserts.
Doc’s American Porter is available year-round, and look for both regular and bourbon barrel-aged versions Crystal Springs’ bigger Black Saddle Imperial Stout to be released Nov. 13 in bottles and in the brewery’s new Louisville taproom, which is set to open soon.
Avery Brewing Co.
The Czar — a massive Russian Imperial Stout loaded with thick currents of mocha, molasses and dark fruit — is also due to make its annual appearance.
Avery will tap and release this year’s version of Czar during a release event at 5 p.m. Nov. 1 at the brewery. Avery is also planning a food drive during the event to benefit Harvest of Hope Pantry in Boulder. Bring three or more high-need items to earn a glass of Czar on the house, as well as a raffle ticket. One lucky winner will receive a case of Czar.
Contact Tom Wilmes at email@example.com.