Bob and I ended up having a bit of a collection of flavored stouts. We did put an Oatmeal Stout in this category, which could or couldn’t be classified as a flavored stout. When we picked out the beers for this tasting, we only had four. I felt like we needed five beers to round this one out because there was nothing heavy. So, Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout was tossed into the mix.
We ended up picking a beer by Bell’s, another Saranac beer I brought home from Western New York, a Schlafly beer, a chocolate stout, and the aforementioned Sam Smith’s. We have three American craft brewers and two English brewers. I think this makes for a very good list of suspects, some usual and some not.
Bell’s Cherry Stout (7.0% ABV)
Nik: This beer is very dark and has no head. The nose is strongly cherry. The sour cherry taste is basically overpowering on this beer. It is crisp, but strong. I didn’t really detect much roasted maltiness in this beer. I could not finish this beer. I dumped it out.
Bob: This is one of Bell’s regular seasonal offerings, only available in late winter each year. I love sour cherries and the areas of the country–Michigan and Wisconsin–where they grow really well. Bell’s is one of my favorite breweries, and I’m a big fan of stout, so you would think think this combination must be a can’t-miss, right? Wrong, as it turns out, and I had to buy a pricy six-pack to figure that out. This obnoxious brew was dark in the glass, with almost no head. A mild cherry aroma, followed by a mostly awful taste that encouraged my to pour the bulk of my sample down the drain. A follow-up on another day (just in case my taster was off) proved no better. Sorry, Bell’s, but this combination just doesn’t work–at least for me. (Note: Bob kept giving me what was left of this six pack to get rid of them….)
Saranac Vanilla Stout (4.8% ABV)
Nik: Like the Bell’s Cherry Stout, this is a winter seasonal. I bought it in a winter 24 pack in Cheektowaga, NY. This beer poured out lighter than the Bell’s and with a much bigger head of small bubbles. Like the Bell’s, the flavoring overpowered the aroma, but this one was vanilla which is one of my favorite aromas and flavors. This beer has a strong roasted flavor with vanilla overtones. It is also brewed with chocolate malt, which seems silly to me, but it works. I just think it would be a bit more appropriate to call this a chocolate stout instead of a vanilla sout.
Bob: This offering from a NY brewery pours dark brown, with a tan head that laces the glass well. Very nice aroma, redolent of both roasted malt and chocolate. A complex taste, with well-blended notes of barley, hops, chocolate and, especially in the aftertaste where it continues to bloom, a rich vanilla. Overall impression was slightly sharp, but very good.
Schlafly Coffee Stout (5.7% ABV)
Nik: Another Schlafly beer! Again, this beer was lighter in color than the bells and had a big head. The coffee smell was quite easily detectable and pleasing. This beer is very smooth and has a rich malt flavor that is wonderfully complimented by the roasted coffee. This may very well be the best beer Schalfly produces.
Bob: From our local pioneering microbrewer in St. Louis, this offering is brewed with coffee beans roasted by another successful local company, Kaldi’s. It pours very dark brown, with a full tan head that laces the glass nicely. Has a noticeable coffee aroma and definite tastes of roasted coffee and roasted barley that complement each other very well. This is an eminently drinkable brew. My only complaint, and a minor one, is that it might be just a little too acidic in its aftertaste. Still, I’d never turn one down if you were buying.
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (5.2% ABV)
Nik: I have been told the canned version is better than the bottled version, but we had a bottle. This one is very dark and has a big, foamy head of small bubbles. It smells very malty and as a very smooth and velvety flavor and this beer goes down far too easily. Simply without trying I was gulping this beer because it is just that good and smooth. The chocolate and roasted malts intermingle to create a wonderful sensory experience.
Bob: Have heard good things about this one and wanted to try it for a long time. Boy, am I sorry I waited, because this is a truly great beer. Very dark liquid, with a tan, small-bubbled head that completely covers the sides of the glass and lasts forever. A nice aroma of roasted barley, and an outstanding taste of perfectly blended chocolate and stout flavors. Terrific to drink either for or with dessert–you can’t go wrong either way!
Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout (5% ABV)
Nik: Samuel Smith’s just knows how to brew beer and this one, though not technically a flavored stout, was no exception. The color is a very deep brown with a very big head. It has a malty aroma with just a touch of sweetness to it. Comparing it to the other beers in this tasting, it’s a very simple brew, but it’s spectacular in its simplicity. As I said, Samuel Smith just knows how to brew beer. I would think that if you don’t like one of their beers, you just might not like beer.
Bob: This is one of the brews that encouraged us to begin our beer reviews. We had sampled it a little more than a year ago and were quite impressed, but somehow it took us a whole year to get around to sampling it again for a formal review. It pours a dark brown with a good tan head that laces the glass. Aroma has nice mild notes of barley and oats. Taste is very smooth, with a pleasant mouthfeel and just the right amount of bitterness in the aftertaste. If this stuff didn’t cost so much in the U.S. I’d be tempted to buy a case of it, so I’d always have some around to drink. This Tadcaster brewery has been brewing in open vats with their own well water since Hector was a pup, and they really seem to know what they’re doing. We’ve never tasted an offering from them that wasn’t truly excellent.