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Following our successful blind IPA taste test earlier this year, we figured now would be a great time to taste different stout beers… you know, for science. For this test, we selected 12 different stout beers representing national, regional, and local breweries, and covering several styles of stouts including imperial, milk, American, Irish, and oatmeal. There were chocolate stouts, coffee stouts, and even nitrogen-infused brews. Everyone was tasting blind, except yours truly, though we did mess up one beer which I’ll explain below. My own rankings were not factored into the overall results.
We conducted this test following a chilly, wet night ride, which IMO is the perfect situation for drinking stout beer. This is how the stout beers stacked up in our taste test, ordered from worst to first.
#12: Left Hand Wake Up Dead Nitro
On paper, Left Hand’s Wake Up Dead Nitro has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s from Left Hand brewery which has made a name for itself among stout drinkers for its highly-regarded Milk Stout. To capitalize on this popularity, the company has seemingly produced countless takes on stout beer to slake its fans’ thirsts. In fact, Left Hand is the only brewery that has two beers in our test.
Not only is Wake Up Dead from the venerable Left Hand brewery, it’s also a Russian Imperial stout, a style which many drinkers regard as the pinnacle of stout beer.
Yet, our reviewers just weren’t that into this beer. It turns out nitro beers in general didn’t do well in our test (we found the same thing in our IPA test), and this beer in particular tasted a bit like medicine according to multiple reviewers. This could certainly be due to the high alcohol content (10.2%) in Wake Up Dead Nitro. Also, I didn’t really give a proper pour on either of the nitro beers in our test because I was trying to pour just the right amount each time. (The instructions on the bottle recommend pouring vigorously down the center of the glass.)
Our panel’s rankings of this beer were perhaps the most consistent among all the beers in our test, ranking 11th or 12th overall by all five of our blind tasters.
#11: Red Hare Sticky Stout
Had this test not been conducted blind, I’m pretty sure Red Hare Sticky Stout would have ranked even lower due to the name alone. Red Hare is a local Atlanta-area brewery known for its bland Long Day Lager, though I can recommend their SPF 50/50 IPA Radler and even Long Night Lager, which is coffee-infused. Anyway…
Sticky Stout was the only oatmeal stout in our test, and features a fairly mellow 6.3% ABV. One taste-tester said it tasted like cardboard while others noted it was sweet and malty. I personally ranked this one in my top 5, but then again, my votes didn’t count since I wasn’t tasting blind.
#10: Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout
Poor Left Hand didn’t get a break in our test. The thing is, nitrogenated beer can be really smooth and delicious, especially when it comes right out of the tap. But in my experience, nitro beer in a bottle or a can just isn’t that great, and perhaps that’s why both Left Hand stouts ranked so low in our test (the improper pour could have been a factor too.)
This milk stout features 6.0% ABV and our reviewers weren’t kind in their descriptions: weak, flatish, watery, and light. Those last two definitely aren’t adjectives anyone should use when describing a stout beer! While two reviewers ranked this beer 11th place or worse, Chris K. ranked this one highly. Though to be fair, Chris K. made it clear at the beginning of the test that he doesn’t really care for stout beer.
Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout was the second to last beer we tested, which could explain its poor showing, particularly with regard to the adjectives used to describe it. However, our #1 pick overall was actually the last beer we tasted. Then again, it’s totally possible these guys have no idea what they’re talking about. Beer Advocate gives this beer a 91, which would place it 3rd among the beers in our test.
#9: New Holland Dragon’s Milk
Dragon’s Milk packs the biggest punch of all the beers in our test, with 11% ABV. It’s an American Imperial / Double stout, and according to the brewer, it has notes of vanilla and oak. Most of our tasters picked up on the barrel-aged taste and all noted how boozy it was. Personally, I was a big fan of this beer, ranking it second overall. Then again, I definitely go for the high ABV, barrel-aged brews whenever possible.
Three out of five of our tasters ranked this beer in 7th place, though that wasn’t enough to get it any higher than 9th overall.
#8: Highland Black Mocha Stout
Highland brewing is located in Asheville, NC, and the company is fairly well known for its Gaelic Ale. This stout is said to have a “very malty body with a large, roasted chocolate flavor” and 5.3% ABV. A couple tasters noted tangerine and citrus notes from the hops, though the panel couldn’t agree on whether the beer was flat or highly carbonated. I suppose we should chalk that one up to inconsistent pours on my part during the test. 🙂
#7: Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero
I was personally looking forward to this beer the most since I tend to dig complex tastes. Clown Shoes notes this beer contains not only chocolate malts but also ancho chile, cinnamon, and vanilla. It’s a fairly boozy beer at 9% ABV, but that’s to be expected since it is an American Imperial / Double stout.
Most of our reviewers ranked this one in the middle of the road, noting coffee flavor (wrong!) and that the beer tasted semi-boozy. It should be noted there was a big jump in rankings between the previous beer, Highland Black Mocha Stout and this one. From here on out, the margins started getting much tighter.
Click below to continue on to our top picks!
#6: Southbound Moonlight Drive
Southbound is a Georgia brewery located in the Savannah area, and while it’s not exactly local, it’s also not what I would consider to be a regional brewery. In any case, we tested Moonlight Drive which is an American Imperial / Double stout that packs a fairly reasonable 8.8% ABV.
Four out of five reviewers picked up on this stout’s coffee notes, while only one noted booziness. For that reason, drinkers should be careful when tipping these back–that 8.8% ABV can sneak right up! This brew snagged two #2 rankings and one #1–impressive for a beer none of us had heard of before this test.
#4: Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout (tie)
Beer snobs (and even some of those in our test) tend to turn up their nose at anything from Brooklyn Brewery, I suppose because it’s a big brewery that’s fairly widely distributed. (It doesn’t help that Brooklyn’s most well-known brew is a lowly Lager.)
The Black Chocolate Stout is a Russian Imperial stout with a hearty 10% ABV. A couple reviewers noted the beer tasted mellow and perhaps barrel-aged. Three of our tasters ranked this one second place or better, while two ranked it 7th or worse. Clearly this beer is polarizing, though it should be noted Beer Advocate gives it a score of 93, the second highest of any beer in our test.
#4: Guinness Extra Stout (tie)
We nearly conducted this test without including Guinness, which would have been a massive oversight. Fortunately the corner store at the start of our ride sells individual 22oz. bottles of the Extra Stout, so I picked one up for Chris K. to carry in his hydration pack during the ride. No, this isn’t your standard Guinness, but it’s close enough.
Guinness Extra Stout has the lowest ABV of any beer in our test at just 5.0%. However, this is still higher than a standard Guinness which offers just 4.3% ABV. The classic Irish stout ranked well among our tasters who noted the nice head and toasty flavor. Chris K. correctly guessed the identity of this beer from the taste alone, so kudos to him! Four out of five testers ranked this stout 4th best or higher, despite the fact that Beer Advocate drinkers give it the lowest marks of any beer in our test. I chalk this up to the difference between tasting blind and judging a beer by its bottle.
#3: Duck Rabbit Milk Stout
It seems like milk stouts are pretty popular right now, and Duck Rabbit’s version did not disappoint our taste testers. Not only did it snag third place overall, it’s also the most affordable on our list, coming in at $1.68 for a 12oz. bottle (prices will vary depending on where and how you buy).
This easy-drinking, 5.8% ABV milk stout impressed our panel for its smooth, refreshing mouth feel and clean, though slightly bitter finish. The Duck Rabbit brewery is located in Farmville, NC so this one may not be widely available yet.
#2: Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout
One of our regular Tuesday night riders, Nick, moved to Kalamazoo, MI this year and during a visit over the Thanksgiving holiday, he brought back some beer to share with us, including Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout. (I got a 6-pack of Two Hearted Ale which, it goes without saying, is delicious.)
Honestly I wasn’t expecting too much from this one because I really only know of Bell’s for their IPA. Kalamazoo Stout is an American stout with a middling 6.0% ABV which on paper sounds a bit boring, yet it received three #2 rankings and even a #1 from Chris B. Reviewers gushed over the consistency and smooth, sweet finish. One person said it tasted like chocolate, while another said coffee. Suffice it to say, this one has a nice roasty flavor and is an excellent choice for those who enjoy stout beer.
#1: Oskar Blues Ten Fidy
This is so embarrassing: I may have screwed up our #1 overall pick. For our blind test, I poured each sample from a bottle or can covered with a brown paper bag, but for some reason, nearly everyone identified this beer (and just this one) based on the half-inch of the can that was showing. To be clear, this wasn’t the only canned beer in the test, but apparently it was the most identifiable.
But wait, don’t discount this result right away! Ten Fidy is far and away the highest-rated beer in our test according to Beer Advocate, scoring a blistering 96 community rating and an editorial rating of 100. That’s right, the Beer Advocate editors give this beer a perfect score.
Ten Fidy is an American Imperial / Double stout with 10.5% ABV (hence the name, Ten Fidy). Yep, it’s “boozy,” “punchy,” and “just plain rad” (these are all words our reviewers used to describe it). Someone even wrote “Batman” in response to this beer. It was the priciest beer in our test ($4.62 for a single can at Ale Yeah) but oh so worth it.
Your turn: If you’ve tried more than one of these stout beers, which one is your favorite?