The Dark Side Brew Crew held our fourth annual Stout Challenge on Super Bowl Sunday. Long before we were cursing the Seahawks’ terrible play-calling at the end, we were rejoicing amidst 14 stouts that we sampled via blind taste test to determine who has the best in the ABQ metro area (plus Socorro). We were surprised by some who finished low, some who finished high (mostly due to their newness), but not necessarily by our winner. For the fourth time in four of these events, we have a different local champion.
So who won? Well, if you have not guessed by the headline above, you will have to just read on. No, seriously, read on. No scrolling down to the end. Stop it! Don’t you do it! You’re the person that reads spoilers about Walking Dead and knew that **** was going to die in the midseason finale and leaked it on Facebook. We don’t like you at all. Unless you brew beer, then we don’t hate you as much. But still, stop scrolling, read in order, please.
Without further adieu, the 14 local stouts, from last to first. Note, we’d still probably drink No. 14 without much reservation.
14. Marble Oatmeal Stout (56.5 points): We were all quite a bit shocked that our inaugural winner (2012) fell to last place. A lot of folks have complained to us lately that they feel that Marble has been rushing their beers and the quality has suffered. No idea if that was what happened here, but for what it’s worth the folks at Marble have said they have not changed anything in the brewing process. The biggest complaint here was a strange, bitter flavor on the finish. E-Rock scored this one the lowest of the six of us at 7.5, while Franz and Mrs. Solo liked it a bit better and gave it a 12.
13. Lizard Tail Rye Stout (59 points): We would have preferred the oatmeal stout, but Shilling got a growler of the rye stout instead since that was what he was offered. The consensus seemed to be that there just was not a lot of flavor here. Only Porter Pounder liked this one, giving it 14 points, while three of us gave it just eight points.
12. Bosque Driftwood Oatmeal Stout (60.5 points): Yeah, this batch was a disappointment. We expected so much more from one of ABQ’s best breweries. Who knows what happened? There was little flavor on the back end, not much more at the outset. The mouthfeel came out fairly thin, which was strange for a Bosque beer. Franz Solo scored it at 13 points, while E-Rock gave it just 7.5.
11. Turtle Mountain Stauffenberg Stout (62.5 points): They have only been brewing this is as a house beer for a short while, so maybe that explains the low ranking. Shilling gave it 14 points, scoring it high on mouthfeel and finish. I thought it shared a lot of similarities with Malpais Stout, which we drank just before this, scoring it pretty average across the board for 12 points. Others weren’t so kind, with Porter Pounder giving it just six points total, mainly citing a lack of aroma and a weak finish.
10. Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout (67.5 points): Recently we have all enjoyed Sleeping Dog, but this particular batch did not quite live up to expectations. This batch had little aroma to draw you in, while most complained that the beer thinned out too quickly, though opinions were fairly divided. Shilling scored it a 15, while Mrs. Solo thought it was just an eight.
9. Broken Bottle Drunken Hobo Milk Stout (68 points): This ended up the only milk/cream stout of the bunch, but Shilling was willing to drink it, so we didn’t have to do any weird scoring adjustments or anything of that sort. He even gave it a strong score of 16 points, feeling it was balanced across all the categories. E-Rock disagreed, finding it lacking every category for a score of just 6.5 points.
8. Kaktus I’m a Little Teapot Short and Stout (69.5 points): Clever name aside, Kaktus brewed up a divisive stout. Four of the six of us liked the aroma and flavor. Others thought the aroma was off, almost smelling of rye or something similarly boozy. Porter Pounder liked just about everything with this, giving it 15 points. E-Rock liked nothing about it, giving it just six points. It definitely merits further examination.
7. Cazuela’s Beer For My Horses (70.5 points): Among local breweries, Cazuela’s has always tended to produce a varied response among the Crew. It happened again with this oatmeal stout. Franz Solo and Shilling gave it 15 points, like just about everything throughout. E-Rock only gave it 7.5 points, disliking the aroma and finish. I personally thought the flavor was all over the place, never really able to settle on itself.
6. La Cumbre Malpais Stout (72.5 points): The 2013 champ could not quite reach high enough to reclaim the title. The general opinions varied throughout. Porter Pounder liked the aroma, while the rest found it average. Shilling gave it high marks for flavor and finish, scoring a group-best of 14 points. E-Rock only gave it 9.5. Most of us were in the 11-to-13 range.
5. Nexus Dry Stout (73 points): OK, technically this is not a regular beer, but we know that brewer Kaylynn McKnight was proud of this, and we included it. This was labeled as beer No. 1 in the Challenge, so most of us had it first. A few went back later and wow, did it benefit from a slight warming. The roasted malts really came forward. Everyone liked the smooth mouthfeel. Franz Solo and I gave it the high score of 13.5 points, while Porter Pounder only gave it a 10.
4. Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout (75.5 points): The 2014 champs ranked first with two of us — Franz Solo and myself — but not with the rest, who had it more in the middle of the pack. Both of us scored it at 17 points, enjoying the aroma and strong chocolate/cookie dough flavors. We didn’t score any category less than four (out of five). The others, well, pretty much disagreed. Only Shilling gave it a four for aroma, while the rest scored no category higher than three. E-Rock gave it the low total score of eight points.
3. Twisted Chile KC’s Traditional Irish Stout (76.5 points): They sent us a growler from Socorro and lo and behold, it did the new brewery proud. Those who liked this one gave it high marks for the big aroma and strong flavor. The mouthfeel was a bit thinner, but in general dry stouts are thinner than oatmeal stouts. Shilling provided the high score here with 17 points, while no one else was lower than 11.
2. Canteen Dark n’ Lusty Stout (79.5 points): After a few down years, the current batch of DnL is back up to par with its excellent past. Shilling love this one across the board, scoring high marks in every category, especially the flavorful finish. His total of 17 points helped it claim silver. I felt it had the most chocolate flavor of any of the stouts present. Porter Pounder gave it the low score of 10, disagreeing with the rest of us about the finish and the mouthfeel.
1. Boxing Bear Standing 8 Stout (88 points): The new guys K.O.’d the competition in their first year. E-Rock, Mrs. Solo, and Porter Pounder each scored this as their favorite, while it ended up second for Franz Solo and myself. It had a good, roasty aroma to draw you in, with strong flavors up front and throughout. The mouthfeel was thick like a stout should have, while the finish scored high as well. Porter Pounder gave it 16 points, as did Franz Solo. Its lowest score came from E-Rock with 11.5, though as noted it was his high score of the day. Twas a bit stingy, that one. Congratulations to Justin Hamilton and his brewing team on creating the best local stout of 2015!
Our individual leaders, for those who are interested in the way we all felt one-by-one.
- E-Rock: 1) Boxing Bear 11.5 points, 2) Twisted Chile 11, 3) Nexus 10.5
- Franz Solo: 1) Tractor 17, 2) Boxing Bear 16, 3) Cazuela’s 15
- Mrs. Solo: 1) Boxing Bear 15, 2) Canteen and Twisted Chile 14
- Porter Pounder: 1) Boxing Bear 16, 2) Kaktus 15, 3) Cazuela’s 14
- Shilling: 1) Canteen and Twisted Chile 17, 3) Cazuela’s and Chama River 15
- Stoutmeister: 1) Tractor 17, 2) Boxing Bear 15.5, 3) Canteen 14
In the end this was another fun Stout Challenge. Big thanks to our special beer pouring team, who came over when we realized Shilling’s girlfriend wasn’t coming to help, and Franz Solo’s sister was kept in quarantine due to illness. We did miss Brandon and Taylor coming over, but they have an infant to take care of and generally cannot stay coherent for long stretches of time.
We ate a ton of ribs and ham and finished most of the stouts, so as not to clutter Mrs. Solo’s fridge with growlers. Our only true disappointments were that asinine Budweiser commercial (you know the one) and of course the exceptionally idiotic play-call by the Seahawks at the goal line in the waning seconds. None of us wanted to see the Patriots raise the trophy again, so we just turned it off and later watched Star Wars instead.
Until next year, we’ll be back out at the breweries, re-checking some of these stouts, seeing which ones truly deserved (or didn’t deserve) the rankings we bestowed upon them.