This is probably not an opinion I share with any other members of the Paste staff, but if I was told I had to choose only one beer style to drink for the rest of my life, I might very well choose stouts. And not imperial stouts, either.
Stouts are comforting. Their ingredient bills don’t exactly allow for quite as much variation and customization as say, IPA with its hundreds of distinct hop varieties, but when you consider all the subsets of stout, there’s quite a lot to keep you busy, while also giving a sense of warmth, security and backbone. Often misunderstood because of their imposing color, it’s a style that is still something of a mystery to those outside the craft beer brotherhood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered non-beer geeks, or people just starting down the road of beer appreciation, who believe that all stouts are more or less the same. And of course when they say that, they’re probably thinking of Guinness.
The truth is, of course, that an oatmeal stout is not a milk stout, any more than a coffee stout is a spiced or fruited stout. Because we defined “imperial stout” as all stouts 8% ABV and above when we tasted standard imperial stouts and barrel-aged imperial stouts last year, “under 8% ABV” was the obvious cut-off point to define sub-imperial stouts. And so, that’s what we did. We gathered as many sub-8% ABV stouts of all kinds that we could get our hands on, and we got to blind-tasting.
Rules and Procedure
Every entry is defined as a stout, and all sub-categories are welcome as long as they’re under 8% ABV. There are American stouts, oatmeal stouts, milk stouts, chocolate stouts, coffee stouts, spiced stouts, Belgian stouts, fruited stouts and even a couple barrel-aged stouts all present. There was a limit of two entries per brewery. Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, beer reps, homebrewers and assorted journalists. Badass, Paste-branded glassware is from Spiegelau. Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged.
The Field: Beers #51-21
The following beers represent the offerings that didn’t make the top 20, aka “the finals.” They’re listed below in alphabetical order and are not ranked. To be honest, we enjoyed almost all of the stouts set in front of us—it’s a style that most breweries do quite well, but we were also pleased to note how the cream of the crop still managed to rise to the top. Still, many of these beers were only a few points away from jumping into the top 20, so don’t feel too bad if your favorite is among them.
Once again, these beers are not ranked.
Against the Grain 35K Milk Stout
Alaskan Brewing Co. Stout
Asheville Brewing Co. Farewell to the Mothership Pt. 2
Avery Out of Bounds
Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout
Blue Point Oatmeal Stout
Blue Point Oyster Stout
Elysian Dark ‘O the Moon Pumpkin Stout
Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout
Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) Survival Stout
Left Hand Milk Stout
NOLA Irish Channel Stout
North Coast Old # 38
Ommegang Lovely, Dark & Deep
Redbrick Divine Bovine Chai Stout
Red Hare Sticky Stout
Rogue Chocolate Stout
Rogue Shakespeare Stout
Salty Nut Dahkness
Salty Nut Coffee Dahkness
Schlafly Oatmeal Stout
Sixpoint Irish Hello
Sixpoint Oyster Stout
Ska Autumnal Mole Stout
Ska Working Class Milk Stout
Stone Coffee Milk Stout
Tallgrass Brewing Co. Buffalo Sweat
Tallgrass Brewing Co. Bourbon Barrel Buffalo Sweat
Warped Wing 10 Ton Oatmeal Stout
Yards Brewing Co. Love Stout
Next: The finals, beers #20-1