On St. Patrick’s Day, many pints of Guinness are raised in celebration of Irish culture. California craft brewers have created not only worthy Dry Irish-style Stouts to rival the experience of drinking Guinness, but also numerous variations of stout that highlight flavors of cocoa, coffee, dark fruit and even s’mores.
Stout is a very versatile style that gives brewers the opportunity to be either wildly creative or quite traditional. This St. Patrick’s Day, hoist a glass of one of these diverse California-brewed stouts.
• Moylan’s Brewing Co., based in Novato, won the silver medal for Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival for its Dragoons Dry Irish Stout, a medal quite well deserved.
Dragoons is a rich black color with a dense tan head, and aromas of coffee, dark cocoa and roasted grains leap from the glass, but with absolutely no harshness or astringency.
On the palate, it is full-bodied and very flavorful, with a smooth roast, hints of coffee and great malt complexity. Hops are not noticeable in the aroma or flavor, but they definitely balance the malt, and moderate carbonation contributes to both the creamy, velvety mouthfeel and the long, slow, smooth roasty finish.
• Boonville’s Anderson Valley Brewing Co. produces Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, which pours dark brown with ruby highlights and a medium frothy beige head. The aroma is rich milk chocolate, with some caramel and hints of cherry, as well as a subtle roast component.
The flavor presents more rich cocoa with some spicy/earthy/floral hop flavors midpalate, though there is no discernible hop bitterness. A roastiness is present but without any trace of harshness or astringency. The beer is medium bodied with a silky-smooth mouthfeel and moderate carbonation, and the finish is long, chocolaty and semi-sweet.
• High Water Brewing’s Campfire Stout has been brewed at several locations in the Bay Area, but currently is produced by Hermitage Brewing in San Jose. Despite the inclusion of the word “campfire” in the name, the beer is not smoky, but rather designed to evoke the aromas and flavors of s’mores, including four pounds per barrel of graham crackers in the mash, chocolate malt and marshmallow flavoring as ingredients.
The beer is dark brown with reddish highlights, a medium body with moderate carbonation and a fizzy tan head that fades quickly. The aromas of graham cracker, marshmallow and sweet milk chocolate really do stand out in the aroma, with no hop character on the nose. The flavor profile is quite similar to the aroma, with just a touch of dark roast on the finish, which is unexpectedly but pleasantly dry given the sweet flavor components.
• Speedway Stout, brewed by AleSmith Brewing Co. in San Diego, is one of the classic American imperial stouts. The appearance in the glass is opaque black with a tall, dense, long lasting cafe au lait-colored head. The aroma is a complex blend of dark roasted grains, earthy coffee, dark cocoa and cherries, with just a hint of licorice and no perceptible hop character.
On the palate, bitter, earthy coffee roast hits first, supported by a firm hop bitterness. Fruity dark cocoa follows, after which a long, dry, robust bitter coffee finish lingers, with notes of dried cherries.
Given the rich, full-body, creamy mouthfeel, and noticeable alcohol warmth, the relatively high carbonation and relatively low sweetness are surprising, but the rich complexity and depth of the aroma and flavor characteristics are deeply enjoyable.
Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.