Good Beer – A Love Story Noir

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by Josh Durkin

Josh at his store.  Photo by KT Calvey.

I DRINK BEER WITHOUT PREJUDICE, but in the fall season when there are especially good dark beers on draught and in store, I pay attention to stouts and porters.  There are many good dark beers, so I picked a few worth considering.


by Josh Durkin



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I DRINK BEER WITHOUT PREJUDICE, but in the fall season when there are especially good dark beers on draught and in store, I pay attention to stouts and porters.  There are many good dark beers, so I picked a few worth considering.

There are certain terms worth knowing about beer. One is “alcohol by volume”, or “abv”. The amount of alcohol is important: it tells you a variety of things dependent on the style of the beer. In certain beers, a higher alcohol can mask taste and flavor, while some beers can only be made in a process that requires higher alcohol — for instance, Russian Imperial Stouts.

One of the hard parts of describing something edible is that you have to use other foods and tastes, and abstractions like names of colors, to get the general idea across. So bear that in mind when thinking about the Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager, which tastes like burnt dirt — that’s right, the good kind of burnt dirt, or peat moss you can taste in Scotch, or Bourbon. This “black lager”, the only lager on the list, drinks close enough to a porter or a stout that it deserves mention. And it would pair well with an Irish whiskey, because they are the smoothest whiskies. An important side note: American and Irish whiskeys are “whiskey”, Scotch whiskies are “whisky.”

Rogue describes the Dirtoir Black as “deftly balanced” and having “seamless dark roasted malt flavors with smooth bitterness.” That description is not far from the truth, but this is a great example of the kind of suggestive description that doesn’t really mean much. “Smooth bitterness” is a contradiction, and “roasted malt flavors” is vague.

Anyone who spends more than quarter of a minute trying to describe to you how a beer tastes is a story-teller. Anyone who spends more time than that is a bull-shitter, and will in most cases make no more sense than the person who spent fifteen seconds on a description.

Anyway, let’s proceed. Fans of dark beer would probably also enjoy the Long Trail Coffee Stout. A part of their Brewmaster Series, it boasts 8.0 % abv and is brewed with Vermont Coffee Company grinds. An Imperial Stout, the beer drinks smooth, and does not contain much of the iodine flavor that some Imperial Stouts have. After one bottle, I realized that the iodine is indeed there, but the coffee masks it. Signs of a good beer.

Lagunitas, out of California, made such a damn good Cappuccino Stout, as they call it, that I had to buy nearly two cases of it last winter. An Imperial Stout like the Long Trail above, it bears 9.2 % abv, and the equivalent of two coffees worth of caffeine in the bottle, which only comes as a 22 oz bomber. Needless to say, you get a nigh double buzz after finishing one.

Can’t really talk about Imperial Stouts without mentioning North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin. Not only does it have a great label, which features the sex-crazed monk piously signing, the beer boasts some of the most intense flavor of an Imperial Stout that I’ve tasted. It has 9.0 % abv and drinks with a good mixture of bitterness and iodine. This is probably what the Long Trail Coffee Stout and the Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout would taste like if they weren’t brewed with grinds. The iodine flavor is hard for some to get used to, which is understandable, but if you have the palate for it, you should definitely try this beer.

Next we have the Shipyard Blue Fin Stout, which is nothing out of the ordinary, and that’s the appeal — it’s done well. It is a simple stout, with 4.7 % abv, and affordable. Shipyard puts out some of the favorite beer in the area, including their Pumpkin Ale, which is coveted.

The Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout has a following, the kind of people who walk in expectantly, and get abruptly angry if it isn’t around when it should be. It used to come in six-packs, but now comes in fours, probably because its alcohol content is 10.0 %. It’s simply delicious, and made local. Just like its name implies, there are serious chocolate flavors in the beer. Can’t help but thinking of Hunter Thompson’s quip: “Good people drink good beer.”

Oatmeal Stouts are popular, but the only one I can remember the taste of is the Samuel Smith offering. And it is damn good. Samuel Smith, in general, makes great beer. You’d have to hate a particular style not to like their version of it. And so it goes that Smith’s 5.0 % abv oatmeal is worth attention.

And we move to the Irish Stouts that taste heavy and creamy. The first note on these stouts is they don’t contain as many calories or carbohydrates as people think they do. So along with abv, some of the beer’s calories have been provided, the lists of which can be viewed here and here.

Murphy’s, an Irish stout, is creamy, and similar to a Guinness. Like Guinness, and Beamish, it pairs well with Irish whiskey. Murphy’s has 4.0 % abv and contains 150 calories per serving, which is considered to be 12 fluid ounces. One area of debate over the canned Irish stouts is the  widget, or nitrogen unit that helps give the stout the kind of head you remember.

Guinness, who pioneered the widget, contains 125 calories, 9.9g carbohydrates, and 0.3g protein, along with a 4.0 % abv — all of this is actually listed on their can. Guinness is the standard, because everyone knows it, and it is fine, though I’ve always been interested in trying a pint of it in Ireland. There are a few Irish guys who habituate the package store I work at, and they claim that it tastes much different in Ireland.

Beamish is a lesser known Irish stout, but my favorite of the three mentioned here. It has 3.8 % abv and 131 calories per serving. It also falls appropriately into the category of a session beer. Session beers have low alcohols, typically 4.0 % or less, and can be drunk over a period of time without full on inebriation. Not very surprising, the American idea of a session beer is something with 5.0 % or above. Consider that Pabst, which has 5.0 % abv and 152 calories, is one of many beers drunk in place of session beers.

We haven’t talked porters yet. Stone produces a smoked porter that confused my idea of how good a porter could be. Part of the reason I liked it so much was its newness, but after a couple of months, I still like it. This one drinks similar to the Chatoe Rogue mentioned above. It has 5.9 % abv, comes in large bottles, and has on its label a gargoyle staring out at you in a crouched position — one of those ambiguous stances that may mean coming violence or safety, or both.

The Samuel Smith Taddy Porter is a long time favorite, and a good standard for a porter. Sweet and slightly burnt, it drinks smooth. 5.0% abv. I firmly believe in what I wrote about story-telling earlier; this beer is simply good.

The Southern Tier out of Lakewood, New York does a good Porter. At 5.2% abv, it has more taste of coffee in it than the Taddy Porter, but remains well-rounded as far as porters go, and drinks smooth and thick, but not syrupy.

Happy, and responsible, drinking!

by & filed under Brews, Food.