Stout Challenge IX: An old favorite rises to the top to claim its 2nd title

Brew Crew members and friends, new and old, gathered for another day of tasting stouts, eating ribs, and watching hand-egg.

Oh, thank goodness, a fun Super Bowl, and not just because it was Patriots-free. Congrats to the Chiefs and their long-suffering fans. But, you are not here to listen to us wax rhapsodic on the game, but instead to find out which stout we picked for our ninth edition.

Five members of the Dark Side Brew Crew, including E-Rock (!), gathered with our friends on Super Bowl Sunday to judge 21 stouts (!) from around the ABQ metro area, and beyond, in a blind taste test. For just the second time in nine 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 IX, from bottom to top. As always, these are just our opinions, we could be wrong.

21. Lava Rock Seismic Stout (34.5): There was something sour, in the aroma and the flavor, and in the end this one did not pan out.

20. Beer Creek San Marcos Stout (38): Diacetyl is the enemy of brewers everywhere.

19. Differential Irish Dry Stout (45): Most of us agreed the aroma was good. All of us agreed the rest did not turn out right at all.

18. Canteen Dark ‘n Lusty (58.5): Every year it seems like one of our usual favorites stuns us by ending up so far down the list. This year it was DnL, which smelled like charred soy sauce, and the lack of flavor could not redeem it the rest of the way. We will consider this an aberration of a batch of an otherwise good beer.

17. Kaktus Oatmeal Stout (59): Opinions varied on this Bernalillo brew, with some finding the aroma nonexistent, while others picking up dark fruit or even some spice. The flavor was pretty much just a light bitterness, and the mouthfeel was thin at best.

16. Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout (61): A former year-round offering, and past champion (2014), this batch did not stand up to past editions. The sugary aroma was good, but it needed a lot more in the actual flavor and body.

15. Turtle Mountain Strategos Stout (63.5): Those with higher grades found hints of dark fruit and tobacco in the aroma, with a little more dark fruit and molasses in the flavor. The mouthfeel was too thin and the finish was rated as either too bitter or too light.

14. Bathtub Row Stouty McStoutface (64): The main problem was the crowler did not retain enough carbonation. The aroma was nice, but there was little flavor there. Will have to retry at the source one of these days.

13. Bombs Away Stockpile Stout (78.5): One of the judges summed it up best by calling it a little too subtle. Most of us just graded it out as average or slightly below in all four categories.

12. Brew Lab 101 Event Horizon Stout (81): A light, sweet aroma that reminded some of a fruitcake gave way to a fairly average beer across the board. Since Brew Lab has been open less than a year, we consider this a pretty good start-up stout, with room to grow.

11. Steel Bender Brickie American Stout (84): Roasty and dry, this was the first one we tasted. Most people found it fairly middle of the road in all four categories, and that is where it ended up.

Another shot of all the assembled stouts around the helmet trophy, which we swear we are going to get engraved this year with all the past winners.

9. (tie) Blue Corn Oatmeal Stout (91.5): Another middle-of-the road stout, it offered up a roasted aroma, smooth mouthfeel, a light finish, and in the middle was a fairly subtle flavor.

9. (tie) Palmer Export Stout (91.5): Balance was the word of the day with this entry when it came to the flavor. It was dry, with hints of dark chocolate, and was one of the few stouts where you could pick up on the hops.

8. Quarter Celtic Mac Lomas Stout (92): This one was pretty clearly an Irish dry stout from the aroma alone. Some found that a strong point, others did not. The roasted malts stood out in the flavor for some, but not all. Often, those that enjoyed the aroma and flavor found the mouthfeel too thin, or it was the other way around.

7. Kilt Check Obliviscaris Stout (95): A solid entry, it ranged between 10 and 14 points for all of us. It had a big, roasty flavor, with hints of dark fruit, per some of the judges.

6. Bosque Driftwood Stout (96): This one scored as high as a 16 and as low as a 6, so it was another one that produced some disagreement. The mouthfeel was good, per most judges, but the flavor votes ranged from robust with hints of maple to eccentric and weirdly salty. The majority liked it, however.

5. Sturm Brauereri Black Stout ov Vengeance (100): Yes, we let Franz Solo put his homebrew into the competition. This was mainly for his ongoing education, so of course he had no idea which beer it was (for the record, he gave it a 12, which was the second lowest score out of the eight of us).

4. Boxing Bear Standing 8 Stout (101): Many of the stouts lacked much aroma, but this one drew you in with some sweet, caramelized hints. Most of us found the flavor to be sweet, like one would expect from an oatmeal stout. We all wish it would be back on the year-round menu.

3. Toltec Shaman Stout (104): Yeah, remember back at the Great American Beer Festival in October when this beer took bronze in the oatmeal stout category? Well, it gets another third-place finish. A solid aroma draws you in, and the flavor has a fair amount of coffee hints, with a mouthfeel that some found exceptionally smooth, others found chewy. The best part about this beer? It is on tap year-round.

2. Starr Brothers Foggy Monocle (114.5): A two-time champion (2017, 2019), it came awfully close to three in four years. A complex aroma led us into a fairly thick, chewy stout, with elements of tobacco, chocolate, and cookie dough. It finished clean and strong. Go get this beer while it is on tap for the winter.

And, that means the winner is …

1. La Cumbre Malpais Stout (125.5): The 2013 champion has returned to the top! One of the few year-round, canned stouts in the state shined through with its complex flavors and rich mouthfeel. It stayed true to itself through the finish. All too often we visit La Cumbre and jump on a seasonal, but clearly we need to revisit this classic more often. Or, at the very least, grab more four-packs to fill the fridge.

Obligatory shot of the massive amount of ribs that Franz Solo made, and we all consumed, after the judging was complete.

For each participant, the rankings varied, of course. Here are everyone’s top three picks.

Stoutmeister: 1) La Cumbre 16, 2) Starr Brothers 15, 3) Boxing Bear 14

Franz Solo: 1) La Cumbre 17, 2) Bosque 16, 3) Quarter Celtic and Starr Brothers 14

Brandon: 1) Boxing Bear 16, 2) La Cumbre 13.5, 3) Toltec 13

E-Rock: 1) La Cumbre 18, 2) Steel Bender 15.5, 3) Quarter Celtic and Starr Brothers 14.5

Luke: 1) Starr Brothers 16, 2) La Cumbre 15, 3) Sturm Brauereri 14

Mrs. Solo: 1) Toltec 16, 2) Bosque and La Cumbre 14

Erin: 1) La Cumbre 16, 2) Starr Brothers 15, 3) Sturm Braureri 14

Eva: 1) Bosque 17.5, 2) La Cumbre 16, 3) Starr Brothers 15

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!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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