It’s still not too cold out in most of the country, but the sun goes down about 20 minutes after lunch and the leftover Halloween candy’s long gone, so let’s just go ahead and call an early start to Stout Season this year. Most of the delicious, boozy, and expensive barrel-aged imperials have yet to hit the shelves, and we’re many months of ice and despair away from celebrating St. Patrick with lighter, creamier, dry Irish models, so now’s the perfect time to ease out of autumn with a scattershot tribute to flavored stouts and porters of all shapes and sizes.
The criteria for inclusion on this list are as follows: The author needs to have recently drank and enjoyed the beer, which must be described by its brewer as a stout or porter containing at least one additional ingredient beyond grain, hops, yeast, and water (except in the one case where it doesn’t). We aimed for a broad range of flavors from around the country, but distribution limitations and the author’s stubborn personal biases got in the way here and there. Also, people just love putting coffee in beer, so there’s a lot of that. Let’s hit it.
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Although ‘Gansett brews most of their beer in upstate New York these days, it remains a Rhode Island institution, with headquarters in Providence and a dream of moving brewing back home in the near future. And if there’s one thing the good people of Rhode Island love more than chorizo, it’s their quirky local businesses. This is why it makes perfect sense that Narragansett has followed up on the success of their Del’s Lemonade Shandy and Autocrat Milk Stout with this super-sweet tribute to what we can assume is North Kingston’s premier source for chocolate donuts. The stock model Narragansett Porter is tricked out with cocoa nibs, chocolate malt, and vanilla to produce a beer that is simultaneously serious and whimsical.
The brewers of Colorado’s vaunted Left Hand Milk Stout have added Allegro Mocha Java coffee and dialed up the alcohol to produce this lovely brute. Aromas of dark fruit, cacao, vanilla, and leather open up into a smooth, creamy, complex coffee-accented stout that is as well executed as it is cleverly conceived.
Ballast Point Indra Kunindra, 7% ABV
San Diego’s Ballast Point may have built a billion-dollar empire on pale ales and grapefruit, but they are very able malt roasters, as well. This one’s a bit bonkers—they call it a “curry export stout”—with curry, cumin, kaffir lime leaf, and cayenne added post-fermentation. It’s an utterly unique beer that will reward anyone who is even lukewarm to the idea. Which is to say, if curry stout doesn’t sound like your style, then this is not your beer. The spice is potent. But if you’re going to try one curry export stout today—and you were probably going to anyway, right?—make it Indra Kunindra.
Oskar Blues Death By Coconut, 6.5% ABV
Oskar Blues started in Colorado, recently expanded to North Carolina, and is heading to Texas in the spring. They’re expanding their product line, too, and Death By Coconut might be the best of their new batch. Strong dark chocolate, vanilla, and sweet coconut are joined by raisin and almond notes to great effect in an ambitious, jam-packed beer that shows just enough restraint.
Night Shift Awake, 6.6% ABV
This new porter from metro Boston’s undersung Night Shift is aged with Counter Culture coffee. It opens with the expected coffee but also a good deal of semi-dark chocolate, with the coffee eventually coming to the fore in an excellent, smooth, unfussy rendition of the fast-emerging style.
Starr Hill Shakedown Imperial Chocolate Cherry Stout, 9% ABV
Cherries are showing up more and more in sour styles these days, and hooray for that, but they’re also a natural addition to chocolate stouts, so it’s good to see Starr Hill, of Crozet, Virginia, bringing Shakedown back after last fall’s strong debut. The fruit tastes real and potent here, and it’s augmented by just enough bittersweet chocolate and a firm, pine-tinged finish.
Prairie Bomb! Imperial Stout, 13% ABV
Oklahoma’s Prairie is among the country’s most acclaimed breweries, and as such one of the few that can be trusted with the almost-too-ambitious project of aging an ultra-boozy stout on espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chiles. What could turn into a muddled mess in lesser hands instead develops into an extraordinary beer that shows each of its flavors in turn before the coffee wins out, with the pepper playing a relatively subdued supporting role that deftly masks the high alcohol content.
Maine Beer Mean Old Tom, 6.5% ABV
A stout aged on vanilla beans, Mean Old Tom is in fact quite gentle and accommodating. Flaked oats provide a creamy texture, and the vanilla lends a slight sweetness that adds balance to the faintly smoky, highly roasted barley and dark chocolate character. Resiny hops contribute an extra layer of complexity on the surprisingly dry finish.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, 10% ABV
Launched in 1994, this is one of the few exceptional American flavored stouts to have reached legal drinking age, and we’re a more tasteful nation for it. No actual chocolate is used in the brewing process, as Brooklyn instead relies on a blend of roasted malts and aging to produce a huge, luscious, bittersweet Russian imperial stout showcasing an intriguing blackberry and fig aroma that is quickly subsumed by waves of dark chocolate and molasses.
Samuel Adams Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout, 9% ABV
The Boston Beer Company could just as easily have positioned this as a pumpkin stout, as the assertive cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and ginger have that tell-tale dessert-pie flavor against a strong backdrop of heavily roasted barley.
Rogue Mocha Porter, 5.3% ABV
One of the lighter beers on the list in terms of both color and alcohol content, this deep brown, coffee-spiked Oregon export showcases deeply roasted malt along with subtler coffee, with a minty pine kick adding to the smooth, approachable austerity.
Jack’s Abby PB&J Barrel-Aged Framinghammer, 10% ABV
The pride of Framingham, Massachusuetts, Jack’s Abby is a rapidly growing, lager-only operation that almost never disappoints. But is dosing a barrel-aged Blatic porter with a 4th-grader’s lunch flying a bit too close to the sun? A peanut butter and jelly beer sounds like a silly gimmick . . . and maybe it is! But that doesn’t prevent this goofy idea from turning into a dead-serious beer in which the fruit and nuts combine with the oak and vanilla from the barrel and the rich, roasted malt of the base porter to make an excellent beer that’s simultaneously bombastic, intricate, and delicious.
Tröegs Java Head Stout, 7.5% ABV
Very bitter dark-roasted coffee character serves as a perfectly contrasting complement to the smooth, easy-drinking texture of this oatmeal stout from the heart of Pennsylvania chocolate country. A strong mocha note shines through with time, as the bitterness fades mid-palate before reemerging in the form of resinous Cascade, Chinook, and Cluster hops on the back end.
Berkshire Brewing Coffeehouse Porter, 6.3% ABV
Western Massachusetts stalwart Berkshire combines locally beloved Dean’s Beans coffee with their outstanding Drayman’s Porter to turn out a brew that smells more like fancy hot chocolate than it does coffee. Things turn darker and roastier with time, though, as faint leather and tobacco notes join the party, along with a more pronounced coffee flavor augmented by rich caramel.