Three years, three Stout Challenges, three different champions.
In the first year, Marble took the crown. In year two, we went to a blind taste test format and it was La Cumbre who came out on top. Sticking with the blind taste test format this year, our only change of note was that Mrs. Solo participated (it was her house, after all), which gave us seven voters instead of six. Her point totals were not too different from the rest of us. Franz Solo’s sister, Lora, handled the pouring of the beers into numbered glasses. We are all very grateful to her, since she had just gotten off an early morning shift at Flying Star and would probably rather have taken a nap. Her rewards later included finishing off the Boston growler of our winner and a good amount of Marble Imperial Stout (which was not in the competition, but they were nice and gave us a free growler of it anyway).
We graded the beers on four categories, scored from one to five points. Those were aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish. I did not do an audio recording this year, so all the comments included below come from what people wrote down on their sheets. Some had more to write than others. Overall we felt like this year’s batch of stouts was a significant improvement on last year. From the winner down to 10th place, there were plenty of surprises when we found out which beer was which.
The participating beers, in alphabetical order by brewery, were Bosque Oatmeal Stout, Broken Bottle Mulligan Stout, Cazuela’s Oatmeal Stout, Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout, Il Vicino Dark & Lusty Stout, Kaktus Blackout Stout, La Cumbre Malpais Stout, Marble Oatmeal Stout, Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout, and Turtle Mountain Oatmeal Stout.
In the interest of full disclosure, here are our individual rankings, followed by the group total.
Brandon: 1. Marble 16 points, 2. Cazuela’s 15.5, 3. Tractor 15, 4. Bosque 14, 5. La Cumbre 11.5, 6. Broken Bottle 10.5, 7. Turtle Mountain 10, 8. (tie) Chama River and Kaktus 9, 10. Il Vicino 7.
Stoutmeister: 1. Cazuela’s 17.5, 2. Tractor 17, 3. Bosque 16, 4. Marble 15, 5. (tie) Chama River and Turtle Mountain 14, 7. La Cumbre 12.5, 8. Broken Bottle 11.5, 9. Il Vicino 11, 10. Kaktus 8.
Porter Pounder: 1. Tractor 16, 2. Bosque 15, 3. Cazuela’s 13.5, 4. (tie) Broken Bottle and Marble 13, 6. Turtle Mountain 12.5, 7. (tie) Il Vicino and La Cumbre 11, 9. Kaktus 8, 10. Chama River 7.
E-Rock: 1. (tie) Bosque and Cazuela’s 17.5, 3 (tie) Marble and Tractor 16.5, 5. (tie) Broken Bottle and Chama River 16, 7. La Cumbre 15.5, 8. Turtle Mountain 12.5, 9. (tie) Il Vicino and Kaktus 12.
Franz Solo: 1. (tie) Bosque, Cazuela’s, La Cumbre, and Tractor 19, 5. Kaktus 18.5, 6. Turtle Mountain 17.5, 7. Marble 15.5, 8. Chama River 13, 9. Broken Bottle 11, 10. Il Vicino 10.
Shilling: 1. Cazuela’s 18, 2. Marble 17, 3. Tractor 16, 4. Bosque 14, 5. Chama River 13, 6. (tie) Broken Bottle and La Cumbre 12, 8. Turtle Mountain 10, 9. Kaktus 9, 10. Il Vicino 7.
Mrs. Solo: 1. Tractor 19, 2. (tie) Bosque and Marble 15, 4. Cazuela’s 12, 5. (tie) La Cumbre and Turtle Mountain 11, 7. Chama River 10, 8. Broken Bottle 8, 9. (tie) Il Vicino and Kaktus 7.
And thus, here are the Brew Crew’s collective rankings for the 10 stouts.
10. Il Vicino Dark & Lusty Stout, 65 points: We were all stunned that an IV beer finished at the bottom. The flavor was just really, really off. It was dry and had an almost vegetable-like quality to it. Most of the comments read “bad,” “weird,” “strange.” This is usually a quality stout, so we’re all going to chalk it up to one bad batch.
9. Kaktus Blackout Stout, 71.5 points: The new kids in the ABQ metro brewing scene have done well with a lot of their lagers so far. Their stout needs a little work. Brandon wrote that the flavor was “dull, one-dimensional, okay but could be better.” I wasn’t a big fan of the aroma and the mouthfeel was too light. Franz Solo was the outlier here as he rather enjoyed it, getting “strong malt and coffee” flavors.
7. (tie) Broken Bottle Mulligan Stout and Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout, 82 points: Mulligan came in last in 2013, so this year’s batch was a marked improvement. E-Rock gave it the highest rating due to the earthy aroma and strong mouthfeel, but the rest of us thought it was too light. Chama came in third last year, so this season’s batch dropped off a bit. It had a thin mouthfeel, without much of a finish.
6. Turtle Mountain Oatmeal Stout, 87.5 points: This was the first time any of us had sampled this new beer from TMBC. It had a hoppier aroma and flavor than the other stouts. Shilling, Brandon, and Mrs. Solo all called it bitter, especially on the finish. Franz Solo liked it the most, particularly for the hoppy bite.
5. La Cumbre Malpais Stout, 92.5 points: The defending champion could not retain its title. Franz Solo gave it high marks for its aroma and flavor, with the oatmeal elements out in front. I liked the start of the flavor, but there was a strange taste on the back end that threw me off.
4. Marble Oatmeal Stout, 108 points: The 2012 champion was not able to reclaim the top spot. We all agreed that there was a hint of chocolate on the back end, with Brandon noting the creamy mouthfeel as a plus. Some found it a little bitter on the finish.
3. Bosque Oatmeal Stout, 110.5 points: Bosque fared quite well in their first Stout Challenge. Franz Solo loved this beer, calling the flavor “outstanding, strong oatmeal balance” and noting the chocolate aroma. I picked up a lot of coffee elements. Brandon thought the hops were just a little out of balance here, affecting the flavor and the finish.
2. Cazuela’s Oatmeal Stout, 113 points: As big of a surprise as IV coming in last was Cazuela’s claiming second place. Last year it was the stout that elicited the strongest opinions, with Franz Solo and E-Rock liking it a lot while the rest of us did not. This time around five of us graded it strongly, noting the aroma and the finish as high points. We all picked up on some strong roasted flavors throughout.
1. Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout, 118.5 points: The 2014 Stout Challenge champion was described by almost everyone with two words, “cookie dough.” There was a lot of chocolate and vanilla flavor present that wowed everyone. It was both the sweetest and strongest stout of the bunch and a worthy winner this year. Kudos to everyone at Tractor for such a great batch.
Those are our picks. Feel free to agree or disagree, or even hold your own tasting session. In the end, even the lowest rated stout on our list is better than 90 percent of the beer that’s out there.
— Stoutmeister and the rest of the NM Dark Side Brew Crew