Wednesday, 18 August 2010


I'd been wanting to do a stout tasting for some time, because I like stout. Eventually, after weeks of discussion and laying of ground rules (tastings would be blind, porters disallowed) Tim and I picked a few each and assembled for a session on the dark stuff. It was a multinational affair, with England, Ireland and America represented. (I was happily surprised by the number of US stouts out there, given that I've rarely seen any for sale in American bars - maybe I just need to look harder.) The ones reviewed here were all bottled, and some were "bottle conditioned" (still alive, and engaged in secondary fermentation) for extra... something.

We kicked things off with a couple of bottles I picked up from a great little ale shop in Norfolk earlier this summer.

Fox Brewery: Cerberus
4.5% ABV. Bottle conditioned.
Nose: Liquorice, sweet/salt.
Taste: Liquorice, sweet/savory. Flat, faded, little finish.

Wagtail Brewery: Black Shuck

4.5%. Bottle conditioned, suitable for vegans.
Nose: Slight coffee.
Taste: More depth, bitter, wood smoke, coffee.

Next up, a couple of Yank beers, followed by a stout from one of my favourite Sussex breweries.

Left Hand Brewing Co: Milk Stout

5.2%. The Colorado brewery makes this beer with "milk sugar".
Nose: Nothing!
Taste: Cloyingly sweet, thick, oily, fizzy, roasted, like a brownie.

Sierra Nevada: Stout

5.8%. From California.
Nose: Sharp, fresh.
Taste: Lemon, chocolate sweetness, longer and richer finish, with bite. Same style as Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil.

Dark Star: Espresso Rich Coffee Beer.
4.2%. With added ground Arabica coffee beans.
Nose: Vegetal, nettles, chocolate.

Taste: Dark chocolate-covered coffee beans. Nice taste but hard work.

Shifting our sights to Ireland, we snubbed the conventional Guinness, that consistently tasty session stout, and opted for a more exotic variety.

Guinness: Foreign Extra

7.5%. Brewed with extra hops, apparently, and blended with a small amount of intentionally soured beer.
Nose: Sweet.
Taste: Very bitter coffee, long finish, difficult.

With the 'lighter' stouts out the way, it was time to move on to the really heavy beers.

Harveys: Imperial Extra Double Stout
9%. I love Harveys Sussex Best. Hard to believe this clenched fist of-a-stout hails from the same brewery.
Nose: Whisky, cider apple orchard.
Taste: Thick treacle, rich, 
creamy, intense, sharp.

Brooklyn Brewery: Black Chocolate Stout
10%. Strong, but disturbingly not as strong as others I can think of. Said to "age beautifully for years", it's only brewed for the winter season.
Nose: Rich, chocolate.
Taste: Cereal, malty, rich, bitter. May have enjoyed more if it wasn't my eighth stout of the evening.

By the end of the session, I have to admit I was stouted, and couldn't touch the stuff for a couple of weeks afterwards. Looking back, I'm not sure whether stout makes for a particularly wise tasting session. It's hard work. Still, we learnt a fair bit, and we even agreed on our top choice of the evening: the Sierra Nevada, which was all the things a good stout should be: powerful, bittersweet with rich roasted malts, and packed with character. Special mentions also to Wagtail's Black Shuck and Brooklyn's Black Chocolate. Black is the new black. 


  1. Let me know next time you want to do a stout tasting - I've got a few interesting ones on the shelf. Extra special mentions to Coopers Best Extra Stout, and if you can find it and stomach the pricetag, Goose Bourbon County Stout.

  2. Will be sure to do that. Definitely interested in Goose Bourbon - I saw it in the Pimlico Cask the other week but did indeed find the price a little spendy. Maybe the best way to taste this sort of stuff is to go in as a quartet and spread the pain. Tactical Nuclear Penguin, anyone?