Dear lord, that was probably the worst Super Bowl we have seen since … man, maybe Super Bowl XXXV? (The one where the Ravens annihilated the Giants, if your memory is too fuzzy.) At least we had lots of stout!
Four members of the Dark Side Brew Crew, plus our good friend Tim, gathered on Super Bowl Sunday to judge 14 stouts from around the ABQ metro area in a blind taste test. For the first time in eight years, a past winner took home its second title.
We judged the stouts on aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish, with a maximum score of five points per category, for a total maximum of 20 points. A few breweries from our projected list were left off, either due to the stout not being eligible (no coffee/chocolate/milk/imperial stouts), or not being available for us to pick up.
For now, here are the results of Stout Challenge VIII, from bottom to top. As always, these are just our opinions, we could be wrong.
14. Turtle Mountain Stauffenberg (16): The toughest thing about these blind taste tests is when a brewer you know, who is a really good dude and an award-winning brewer, nonetheless presents a crushing disappointment. Sorry, Mick, but that was this. The stout had a medicinal flavor, a thin mouthfeel, an aroma that came off lie fertilizer/band-aid to some, Franz Solo picked up on a heavy amount of DMS, and, well … we still love the other TMBC beers. That counts, right?
13. Palmer Switch Stance (17.5): An Irish dry stout, we have had it before at the brewery and it tasted far different (better) than this batch. The aroma was all smoke, with Maureen even picking up a little curry, while Brandon thought it was more of a burnt gose/kettle sour. There was a weird, tobacco-like flavor, with an exceptionally thin mouthfeel and almost non-existent finish. We have no idea what went wrong here.
12. Hops All About the Stout (34.5): Maureen was really the only one of us who liked this Irish dry stout. She enjoyed the aroma (“smells like breakfast”), smooth mouthfeel, and “a little bit of bite” on the finish. The rest of us, well, we found the aroma ranging from a mild roast to downright sour, with an astringent flavor, possibly from using too much Black Patent malt.
11. Toltec Oatmeal Stout (37.5): If the nose knows, then our noses knew little as the aroma was barely there. The flavor was mild, with a hint of burnt caramel and toffee. The mouthfeel was thin at best, with a dry, barely-there finish.
10. Tractor Double Plow (46.5): The 2014 champion failed to shine through this time. The dark roast aroma was pleasant, but the flavor (slight coffee), mouthfeel (thin), and finish (bitter) were just off.
9. Kellys Sleeping Dog (47): The 2018 runner-up, and a past champion when it was still Chama River’s beer, this batch did not live up to its predecessors. The aroma came off as either minimal or a bit like burnt coffee. The flavor was roasty, with a hint of nuts. The mouthfeel was more like what you would expect from a schwarzbier. The finish produced mixed reactions from clean to funky.
8. Boxing Bear Standing 8 (48): The demotion from year-round to seasonal has taken a bit of the bite out of this one. The aroma was not really there, with a tinge of roast mixed with some sort of odd chemical that no one could quite identify, though Brandon wrote that it came off like a musty Merlot. The flavor packed some roast and a hint of dry chocolate, but it produced an unusual off flavor in the finish. The mouthfeel was a bit thin in our opinion.
7. La Cumbre Malpais (59): The 2013 champ ended up in the middle of the pack in many categories. Most of us found the aroma to be a bit light, with a slight whiff of coffee/roast. Thoughts on the flavor ranged from cake frosting to light roast. The mouthfeel was average-to-thick, while the finish ranged from sharp to balanced. We still don’t mind those random nights at Launchpad when they have cans of this for $5. It’s a tall boy for a more sophisticated metalhead.
6. Quarter Celtic MacLomas (60.5): Another Irish dry stout, this one still held up fairly well. Our thoughts seemed to be all over the place on it, with some picking up a dark fruit aroma, almost like black currant, while others got a lot of coffee and toffee on the nose. The flavor comes off closer to a porter than a stout, with some light chocolate, more dark fruit, and little roast. The mouthfeel was thin, which one would expect from the style (though, of course, we did not know what beer we were drinking).
5. Red Door Mail Order Stout (61): This new stout is not on tap yet, but head brewer Matt Meier nicely asked us if we would include it, since he wanted to see how it stacks up to the local competition. We all got a little something different on the nose, ranging from mild chocolate to hoppy fruits to cookie dough. The flavor was heavily roasted, with a dry, fairly thick mouthfeel. The hops all pop up on the finish, leaving it a little dry and slightly bitter.
4. Bosque Driftwood (63.5): The aroma on this oatmeal stout produced a lot of different responses, ranging from coffee to dried fruit to cookie dough. The flavor was heavy on the malty sweet/roast, but the mouthfeel was not quite up to par. Feelings on the finish ranged from clean to cocoa to dry.
3. Canteen Dark ‘n Lusty (76.5): The 2018 champ just missed out on being our first back-to-back winner. There is a lot of roast on the aroma, with a tinge of dark fruit. The flavor was heavy on the chocolate, with a bit of an unexpected alcohol burn, which some liked and others were not too sure of, while the mouthfeel was thick and chewy. The finish was clean and yet complex.
2. Marble Oatmeal Stout (77.5): Our first champion, way back in 2012, came oh-so-close to a second title. A sweet, almost floral aroma from the hops draws you in. There is a chocolate flavor, almost cookie-like, with a rich mouthfeel and a sweet finish. We are gonna have to go pick up a couple sixers of this one. Never underestimate a classic!
And, that means the winner is …
1. Starr Brothers Foggy Monocle (80): The 2017 winner reclaimed the title! We all got a lot of oats on the aroma, though responses ranged from doughy to smoky in addition to that. The flavor and mouthfeel was all oatmeal and cream, with a clean finish. After tumbling far down the list last year, we were told by head brewer Rob Whitlock that he recognized what had gone wrong in 2018, and that he would correct it for this year. Well, Rob was a man of his word. Congratulations!
For each Crew member, the rankings varied, of course. Here are everyone’s top three picks.
Stoutmeister: 1) Starr Brothers 18.5, 2) Bosque 16, 3) Canteen 15.5
Franz Solo: 1) Canteen 16, 2) Marble 15, 3) Starr Brothers 14
Brandon: 1) Starr Brothers 17.5, 2) Marble 14.5, 3) Canteen 14
Maureen: 1) Hops 18.5, 2) Marble 18, 3) Boxing Bear, Red Door, Starr Brothers tied with 17
Tim: 1) Marble 17, 2) Canteen 16.5, 3) Red Door 14
A big thanks to the breweries for their contributions to the Stout Challenge. We always encourage everyone to go out and try all the beers for themselves. Let us know which is your favorite from around town, and beyond!