Beer Battle II: The new king of the stouts is …

Well, Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone, but our hangovers remain in the Brew Crew. We staged our second Beer Battle yesterday, once again pitting the area’s best stouts against each other to see if anyone could steal Marble’s crown.

All six of us got together to rematch the best stouts in the ABQ/Santa Fe area. Top row, from left, Franz Solo, Derek, and E-Rock. Seated, from left, Shilling, Stoutmeister, and Brandon.
All six of us got together to rematch the best stouts in the ABQ/Santa Fe area. Top row, from left, Franz Solo, Derek, and E-Rock. Seated, from left, Shilling, Stoutmeister, and Brandon. And yes, Derek did eventually give Franz the viking helmet to go with his jersey.

Someone did, but rather than spoil the suspense (hey, don’t stop reading this, you’re not allowed to scroll down the page and find out!), we had some changes from 2012’s first Beer Battle (read the entire recap of Marble’s victory) in terms of participating breweries. With all six Crew members on hand — yes, it was the first time since we formed the blog that all of us were in the same place at the same time — we added some new breweries to the list this year.

  • Cazuelas, a restaurant in Rio Rancho that has begun brewing its own beer (we’ll have more on it this week or the next).
  • Blue Corn Brewing and Second Street Brewing, as Franz Solo drove up to Santa Fe to purchase growlers.
  • Broken Bottle, which was not open yet in 2012.

Gone from our list this year were Turtle Mountain, which came in second in 2012, and Farside (the former Bad Ass Brewery), which came in fifth, as neither had a stout on tap. Bosque Brewing and Back Alley Draft House do not currently have stouts on tap, sadly.

Once again, due to Shilling being a vegan, he could not review one of the beers we had; last year it was Bad Ass’ Cream Stout and this time around it was Second Street’s Cream Stout.

La Cumbre was packed with people picking up growlers for the Super Bowl. Hopefully many of them were filled with Malpais Stout.
La Cumbre was packed with people picking up growlers for the Super Bowl. Hopefully many of them were filled with Malpais Stout.

The primary rule of the Beer Battle is that these beers need to be the brewery’s regular stout on tap. We do not include imperial stouts, as there is usual too great of a flavor disparity.

In other changes from last year, we treated this Beer Battle like the IPA Challenge, doing it as a blind taste test with help from two of the Crew’s girlfriends (thank you, ladies!) so we did not know what we were drinking and thus have any pro/con bias sneak in there. The only beer we all knew was Second Street, since Shilling could not indulge.

Franz Solo, our gracious host and cooker of much delicious food, created score sheets for us. We rated the beers on a 1-5 grading scale on four categories: appearance, aroma, palate, flavor.

So without further adieu, here are our individual lists, with our point totals included:

Brandon: 1. Second Street (16.5), 2. Chama River and La Cumbre (15.0), 4. Il Vicino and Marble (14.5), 6. Tractor (14.0), 7. Broken Bottle and Nexus (11.0), 9. Blue Corn (10.0), 10. Cazuelas (9.5)

Derek: 1. La Cumbre (16.0), 2. Chama River and Second Street (15.0), 4. Marble and Nexus and Tractor (14.0), 7. Il Vicino (12.0), 8. Blue Corn (11.0), 9. Cazuelas (8.0), 10. Broken Bottle (7.0)

E-Rock: 1. Cazuelas (16.5), 2. La Cumbre and Second Street (16.0), 4. Il Vicino and Marble (14.0), 6. Blue Corn and Chama River (13.0), 8. Tractor (12.0), 9. Nexus (11.0), 10. Broken Bottle (10.0)

Franz: 1. Cazuelas and Chama River and La Cumbre (19.0), 4. Second Street (18.0), 5. Il Vicino (16.0), 6. Marble (15.0), 7. Blue Corn and Tractor (13.0), 9. Broken Bottle (12.0), 10. Nexus (10.0)

Shilling: 1. Marble (17.5), 2. Blue Corn and La Cumbre (17.0), 4. Broken Bottle (16.0), 5. Il Vicino and Tractor (14.0), 7. Nexus (13.0), 8. Chama River (12.0), 9. Cazuelas (8.o)

Stoutmeister: 1. La Cumbre (14.5), 2. Blue Corn (14.0), 3. Chama River and Il Vicino and Second Street (13.0), 6. Marble (12.0), 7. Nexus (11.0), 8. Cazuelas and Tractor (10.0), 10. Broken Bottle (9.0)

The sample cups were lined up prior to Beer Battle II.
The sample cups were lined up prior to Beer Battle II.

For the final group list, we made a mathematical adjustment for Second Street that I will explain below. Now, in the final analysis, we would say that most of these are still quality beers and we would encourage everyone to go out and try all 10 stouts for yourselves. Plus, that supports all our local breweries. Below we share some of our written comments from our scoresheets and some of our verbal comments that we made after everyone finished each beer.

10. Broken Bottle Mulligan Stout (69 points)

The guys at BBB advertise this as a different stout than what most beer drinkers are used to, and ultimately we agreed in the sense that it did not live up to its brethren. The collective assessment seemed to be that it just lacked any strong flavor. Some of us picked up a smoky flavor, others found a hint of chocolate, and one of us called it “flowery.” Shilling liked this one the most, Derek liked it the least.

Comments: “The aroma was really very sour. The flavor was a little sour.” — Franz; “I detected a hint of black licorice when I first smelled it. There was something off. It was black licorice, but not.” — Brandon; “There were really muted flavors, there was nothing coming out in any direction.” — Derek

9. Nexus American Stout (70 points)

This was a much burlier version that actually tasted like a stout, whereas the 2012 edition was more of a dark lager. Derek liked it the most, noting that it had a unique feel on the palate and a sweet coffee flavor with chocolate hints. Franz liked it the least as he felt it was too bitter and at the same time watery, with a negligible mouthfeel on the palate. Most of us just did not find enough flavor here to rank it higher.

Comments: “I’d say it was just average.” — Brandon; “This is what you would drink if you’re playing beer pong with a stout.” — Franz; “There was no bite, no middle, no end.” — Stoutmeister

8. Cazuelas Stout (71 points)

The new kid on the block probably brought about the biggest scoring discrepancies. E-Rock and Franz both enjoyed this beer, while the rest of us were pretty down on it. Franz wrote on his scoresheet that it had “grand flavor” that held “from start to finish.” E-Rock wrote that it was “not perfect, but really good. Bold flavors.” In contrast, Derek wrote that it “tastes like plant life” while I referred to it as “earthy” with an “unusual aftertaste.”

Comments: “It was a burnt flavor, it was extremely burnt and it was off and I got slight hops at the end.” — Brandon; “I got strong vanilla flavors from this one.” — E-Rock

7. Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout (77 points)

Tractor took a few steps back from last year’s third-place finish, or one could look at it that other breweries moved ahead. As someone who has had my fair share of the Double Plow, it has remained consistent throughout its existence at the Nob Hill Taproom. Yet at the same time I gave it the lowest rating of the six of us. I felt underwhelmed, noting that it only had a consistent flavor throughout without too much bite on either end. Brandon, on the other hand, wrote that it was “bold” with a “smooth, velvety” feel on the palate.

Comments: “It started the same, the middle was the same, and the end was the same. There was no Bell Curve of flavor.” — Stoutmeister; “It was a little too sour, it tasted like vinegar to me.” — Franz; “It was a little too creamy, but that’s the only knock I have against this one. I really liked it.” — Brandon

The sample cups are filled with stout and ready for consumption.
The sample cups are filled with stout and ready for consumption.

6. Blue Corn Gold Medal Oatmeal Stout (78 points)

This was the first time any of us had sampled Blue Corn’s stout, so we were all fairly intrigued by a beer that, as its name implies, once won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Shilling and Brandon had almost opposite reactions. Shilling wrote that it had “balanced flavor” and a “cleaner flavor than the first three (we tried).” Brandon wrote “not a good mouthfeel AT ALL” and that all the flavor was in the front. Most of us agreed that it opened strong but finished weakly in terms of its flavor and impact on the palate.

Comments: “There was no aroma to that, but I loved the body.” — Brandon; “This one, it was just odd.” — Stoutmeister; “It was very, very subtle at the finish. A slight hint of chocolate, that’s it.” — Franz

5. Il Vicino Dark-n-Lusty Stout (83.5 points)

The DnL was a disappointment last time around, but it rebounded nicely in 2013. Franz gave it the highest rating, noting the excellent aroma of chocolate and coffee hints. He noted the bold start and that it also lacked a strong finish. I referred to it as a “dry stout (that) falls mid-range for me.” This was one beer that we all pretty much agreed upon, thus it ended up smack in the middle of the list, with consistent scores throughout. It just didn’t have as much flavor as some of Il Vicino’s outstanding seasonal beers.

Comments: “There were no bold flavors. It was very middle of the road.” — Derek; “It was a very dry stout.” — Stoutmeister; “It has a very strong burnt flavor to it.” — Shilling; “There was a slight bit of sweetness there, but it was almost immediately overpowered.” — Brandon

3. (tie) Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout and Marble Oatmeal Stout (87 points)

These two staples of the local craft beer scene ended up in a dead heat. Chama showed a marked improvement after finishing sixth out of eight last year. Franz wrote that the “strong oat and malt flavor hits you at the front” and called it “drinkable to the bitter end.” Brandon wanted more “richer flavor,” while Shilling found it too light. E-Rock felt it started good but after a while he lost interest in the flavor. Derek felt it needed “a bolder carbonation.” I just found it a little thin, wanting more from the flavor promised by the strong chocolate aroma.

Marble’s stout has always been a popular one among us. I found it a “tad sour, tad dry,” which was unusual in what I have usually enjoyed. Franz felt it was “unbalanced and dry,” while E-Rock called it “just kinda odd. Too flowery.” For the most part we all thought it was more mellow than we remembered. We are used to stronger flavored beers from Marble.

Comments on Chama River: “It was like the awesome movie trailer, then you go to see the movie and wonder who wrote this? It didn’t live up to expectations from the aroma and look.” — Stoutmeister; “It need more pronounced flavors. I think it was one of the lighter stouts we had.” — Brandon; “There was no aftertaste at all. It just stopped. I preferred that to overly bitter, but there still wasn’t enough.” — Derek

Comments on Marble: “This one was a lot sweeter than the last couple. I liked this one quite a bit.” — Derek; “It hit me right in the mid and then nothing else.” — Franz; “Honestly, this was probably the best.” — Shilling; “It wasn’t an overwhelming bitterness, it was a nice bitterness that was even for me on my palate.” — Brandon

2. Second Street Cream Stout (94 points — adjusted score)

First off, I’ll explain the scoring adjustment. The five of us who could drink this totaled up 78.5 points. I took that as a percentage out of 100 possible points and adjusted it for 120 possible points. That pushed Second Street up to 94 (technically 94.2) and, well, second place. This was the only cream stout out of the ten, so it is definitely one of those styles that some people love and others dismiss as too sweet. Second Street’s version has more bitterness than a lot of the cream stouts we have tried, at least at the outset. This was definitely the smoothest of all ten stouts. We all pretty much liked it, but I think we all felt it came up a little short of perfection. It is certainly another good beer from Second Street and another reason for us to trek up to Santa Fe.

Comments: (whoops, we actually forgot to record those; sorry, we’re human sometimes)

And the winner is …

When all was said and done, we retired to the back yard to sit by the fire and finish off the last of the stout in our growlers.
When all was said and done, we retired to the back yard to sit by the fire and finish off the last of the stout in our growlers.

1. La Cumbre Malpais Stout (97.5 points)

The best of 2013, Malpais seized the crown with three of us picking it as our favorite or co-favorite, and no one ranking it lower than second or tied for second. Brandon wrote that it was “very good, prominent flavors, slightly sweet/creamy flavor contrast(ed) with bitter hop/malt profile.” Derek said the only downside was the bitterness on the back end. E-Rock found it “a little muted,” while Franz wrote that it was “strong, bold, delicious, drinkable to the bitter end.” I agreed that it was “consistent throughout” and that its “balance is a plus.” It is generally hard to go wrong with any La Cumbre beer and the Malpais Stout is a great example of that.

Comments: “Bold, delicious, bitter, loved it.” — Shilling; “For me, I didn’t like that the bitterness lasted so long.” — Derek; “I picked up a little bit of sweetness there. The bitterness did last, but I think it came from a hop characteristic. The roasted malt flavors overpowered that.” — Brandon

* * *

So that wraps up Beer Battle II and our second annual Super Bowl of stouts. It is never easy with all of our overlapping schedules to get even three or four of us together in the same room, so to get all six of us together was quite the feat. We hope to have more beer battles throughout the year, some involving almost all breweries when they have the same styles on tap, and maybe some smaller showdowns when three or four breweries have the same seasonal at the same time.

And no, we were not pleased with that Super Bowl result. But we had lots of stout and lots of streak and ribs, so we endured.

Until next time …

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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