It’s widely accepted by all beer lovers that one of the most amazing things about beer is the HUGE variety of flavors. Even a beer novice can appreciated that an IPA tastes, looks, smells, feels, nothing like a stout. What I’m most excited about lately is the variations amongst stouts and porters! While I love a well structured, basic stout with roasty malts and hints of chocolate and caramel (from the malt) alongside a bit of bitterness, I’m continually surprised to hear what is being added to my beer during the brewing process to up the ante on the flavor profile.
In short, beer is made in 7 basic steps:
- Malting: Breaking down the starches (grain, rice, barley, wheat)
- Mashing: Soaking the broken down starches in water to release sugar
- Lautering: Rinsing off the starches to get all the sugar out – the sugar water collected is called “wort”
- Boiling: Heating the wort along with all the other delicious things – hops, chocolate, fruit, herbs and spices, carrots, truffles, live lobsters, money and frozen pizza, ya know, whatever…
- Cooling: Bringing the temperature of the wort down so it doesn’t kill the yeast
- Fermenting: Adding yeast to turn the sugars into alcohol
- Conditioning: Letting the beer hang out, without yeast, to mature for a while
So there you have it, step 4, the magic step, where so very many things can be added! Strange additives don’t necessarily add up to strange results though – that lobster beer, Del L’Aragosta Saison, was like Maine in a bottle, and I have to admit that even Big A$$ Money Stout wasn’t all together off-putting once I saw past the fact it was brewed with cash.
Bizarre additives aside, with a dark beer, the happy place comes along when there are additives that make sense and work with the flavor profile native to a stout or porter – smooth notes of chocolate and a hint of bitter roastiness. What goes with chocolate? A few things come to mind: Raspberries – think raspberry brownies, Mint – hello girl scout cookies, Chiles – mexican chocolate cake, and Caramel – nuf said.
What to do when you can’t decide which of the above 4 to try? Try them all! My dear friend Theodora and I decided to take a deep dive into flavored stouts on a recent trip to Washington DC. At Church Key, where they not only tolerated our wittiness (read: brand of crazy) but embraced it, we pitted mint against raspberry beers. The following night at The Partisan we sampled beer brewed with spices, chiles and brown sugar and I had my 500th distinctly different beer!!!
Hardywood Park Raspberry Stout: Thick and heavy, almost jammy. Raspberry is well balanced with flavors of chocolate and vanilla. Not too sweet.
Founders Brewing Company Big Lushious: After 2 years in the cellar, this is SO raspberry forward! Literally all I could taste on first sip. That said, it’s fresh picked and warm from the sun kind of raspberries. (Shout out to Leslie who got me this beer as a birthday gift!)
Perennial Artisan Ales 17: STRONG on the mint. Woah. Almost wondered if I had forgot to spit out my gum. Thick, creamy, chocolate-ie, much more intense than the Odd Side.
Odd Side Ales Java Chip Mint Stout: Smells like thin mint in beer form, but the flavor is much lighter. You have to go looking for the mint a bit, doesn’t hit you in the face. Thinner mouthfeel too.
Spices and Chiles
Westbrook Mexican Cake: Hands down, one of my favorite beers of all time. So many flavors, so well balanced. Nothing sticks out more than another in the melange of chocolate, cinnamon, habanero, and vanilla.
Perennial Artisan Ales Abraxas: If ever there were a runner-up to Mexican Cake, though… this would be it… a bit more warmth from the cinnamon and chiles on this one, but that’s not a bad thing.