To the uninitiated, stout can seem like an intimidating style to approach. Especially if your reference is a tall glass of pitch-black, motor-oil-like liquid with a thick, frothy head of foam (which, for many beer drinkers, sounds delicious).
A common misconception is that darker beer automatically equals higher alcohol volume. While darker doesn’t actually mean boozier, there’s definitely no shortage of knock-you-out-of-your-socks stouts. Another is that stouts are heavy beers that make you feel full, like you’ve drunk a whole meal. On the contrary, stouts can be just as balanced and flavorful as any other beer style. In fact, a stout doesn’t have to be dark at all. If you ever want to purposely deceive your eyes, try a “blonde stout.” Your eyes will see a light, refreshing beer, but your palate will enjoy gulps of roasty coffee and chocolate notes.
There are so many types of stouts to choose from, including milk stout, oatmeal stout, American stout, Irish dry stout, imperial stout, foreign extra stout, and the illustrious oyster stout (a beer actually made with oysters). And as cliché as it may sound, we all have to start somewhere. Wondering where to start your stout journey? We asked 10 brewers to recommend their favorite stouts for beginners.
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The Best Stouts for Beginners, According to Brewers
- North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin
- Modern Times Beer Black House
- Smog City The Nothing
- Firestone Walker Brewing Company Velvet Merlin
- Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout
- Deschutes Obsidian
- Jackalope Brewing Co. Snowman Stout
“I would say Old Rasputin from North Coast. ABV is a little higher than an intro at 9 percent, but it uses a traditional recipe and has all the bold, complex flavors I like in a stout. It finishes smooth and is great both cold and warm.” —Jenn Suitt, brewer, Homestead Beer Company, Heath, Ohio.
“I think Old Rasputin from North Coast is a great intro for several reasons. It is easily accessible at a variety of different stores, very consistent, and tastes great both fresh and barrel-aged. It is an intense but creamy beer with rich caramel, cocoa, coffee, dark fruit, roasty, and sweet notes.” —Kyle Harrop, founder, Horus Aged Ales, Oceanside, Calif.
“When I first had the Black House from Modern Times, I was super impressed. It’s a great one for beginners because it’s a very smooth and easy-drinking coffee stout. Lots of flavors, great for anyone who enjoys coffee, but nothing like anyone just getting into craft beer would expect from a ‘dark beer.’ Any low-ABV stout is great to begin with and helps demystify preconceived thoughts about dark beers.” —Tyler Sadler, brewer, LitBrew, Los Angeles
“Guinness is a classic. With a low ABV and approachable bitterness, it has a creamy mouthfeel that won’t overwhelm a beginner’s palate. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most popular beers in the world.” —Lara Hargrave, lead brewer, Great Notion, Portland, Ore.
“As much as I enjoy a low-ABV stout, I think a beginner should be introduced to the OGs of SoCal craft beer as well. The Nothing Imperial Chocolate Stout from Smog City is a classic that all of us in the industry respect.” —Teo Hunter, head of brewing operations, Crowns & Hops, Inglewood, Calif.
“I’ll suggest oatmeal stouts and cream stouts. Those beers contain oats and lactose respectively, which help create a velvety-smooth stout drinking experience. Firestone Walker’s Velvet Merlin is a seasonally available oatmeal stout, and Left Hand’s Milk Stout is quite ubiquitous year-round. In my opinion, [they are] world-class examples of their style. They are both deliciously easy-drinking beers in the 5-6 percent ABV range, so they won’t knock you out but still warm you up with notes of coffee, dark chocolate, and lightly burnt toast.” —Barry Chan, brewmaster, Lucky Envelope Brewing, Seattle
“For a traditional stout, I always enjoyed Old Rasputin by North Coast Brewing. It’s a classic example of a Russian Imperial Stout. For something with less alcohol, I love Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout. Slightly sweet with dark chocolate notes, it is smooth, creamy, and easy drinking.” — Alfredo Rocha, brewer, Los Barbones Brewing, Downey, Calif.
“Our Snowman Stout is a delicious stout that I think people who are new to craft beer usually love. We brew it with locally roasted coffee and cocoa beans, so there are really tasty notes that people also find familiar and welcoming. It’s also 6.2 percent ABV, so it won’t sneak up on you the way some bigger stouts will.” —Bailey Spaulding, CEO/brewmaster, Jackalope Brewing Co., Nashville, Tenn.