A dozen stouts, poured at random, and the first one poured ends up the champion. That was how it went Sunday afternoon, as the Brew Crew gathered for the 10th time to engage in a blind taste test of local dark elixirs for our annual Stout Challenge.
The winner? Oh, you will have to scroll down. Suffice to say, it was a past champion earning its second title, but it was not a repeat winner. Perhaps next year, but until then, let us recap the changes we went through in 2021.
Rather than have it at Franz Solo’s house, we moved it to our friend Dan’s house for Covid-related reasons. Dan served as our official pourer of the stouts, with a dozen entries (up from one as we reported Friday) served up to the five Crew members present as judges — myself (Stoutmeister), Brandon, Erin, Maureen, and Andrew. We voted on a zero-to-five-point scale for four categories per beer — aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, finish. The high score was 71.5 points, the low score was 21.5.
There were good stouts, mediocre stouts, and stouts that need work.
Here are the stouts, from 12th to the winner.
12. Mac Lomas Stout, Quarter Celtic (21.5 points): This was one of two that shocked us by finishing so low. We have all frequented QC for some time now, but among the house beers, we will all admit that this is not one of our regular selections. This batch was just, well, to sorta quote Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there.” It lacked flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel. Considering how good the seasonal stout, Pandemic Pajamas, is in comparison, we know this one can be better, and we are confident that in time, it will be better.
11. Malpais Stout, La Cumbre (23.5): No, really, our 2020 winner came in this low. We were just as weirded out as most of you. Honestly, Brandon and I thought beer #1 in the order of tasting was Malpais, but alas, it was not. It just came off as rough, with too little flavor or aroma. This was the first year we decided to allow pre-packaged cans for those eligible breweries. Perhaps next time we will only go with freshly filled crowlers/growlers. Something was up with this in cans, and it was not good.
10. Event Horizon Oatmeal Stout, Brew Lab 101 (24.5): Our noses fooled us. The aroma came off as pure oatmeal cookie, but everything after that … was not. It was bitter and uneven, with a swirl of flavors failing to find any sort of foothold. We were invited in to try this beer and just came away disappointed by how disjointed it ended up being. It was a beer that could not figure itself out.
9. Siesta Stout, Sobremesa (31.5): One of the newest breweries in town seems to have brewed up a perfectly good brown ale. This, however, was a stout tasting, so it seemed quite out of place. The color alone did not fit with the other stouts, but it went beyond that. It really tasted more like a nutty brown ale, drawing comparisons in the group to Santa Fe’s Nut Brown Ale. In that regard, it was a fine brown. But, it was not a stout.
8. Coffee and Chocolate Stout, Harmon Lane Brewing (36): Full disclosure, I work at Southwest Grape and Grain, which Harmon Lane is a part of, so I was the one who decided Saturday night to add this to our list to give us an even 12 entries. With that said, the group agreed that the nutty chocolate aroma was the strong point here. The flavor, mouthfeel, and finish did not quite live up to that aroma. As a side note about the recipe, there were no adjuncts of added coffee or chocolate.
7. Metal Snake Dry Irish Stout, Turtle Mountain (37): Look, we gotta admit, Irish dry stouts do not fare as well as their American and oatmeal counterparts. Take this brew, which was perfectly decent at face value, but failed to live up to the beers above it on this list. The carbonation felt off, and the mouthfeel came off more thin and watery than anything. There was not much flavor or aroma there, either.
6. Double Plow Oatmeal Stout, Tractor (43.5): Most of us agreed that this past champion (2014) had a good, roasty aroma. The flavor was heavy with the dark malts, but then it all started to go wrong as it hit the back of our palates. The finish was quite off, with an overt amount of ashen smoke. The mouthfeel was slightly off as well, being strangely inconsistent throughout.
5. Shaman Stout, Toltec (44.5): The coffee notes were right up front, both in aroma and flavor, and then they dropped off in a hurry. A lot of astringent flavors then took over, knocking this one back a bit, with a pretty rough finish. Considering that Toltec has been without a head brewer for a while now, this one held its own in some ways. Hopefully whomever takes over the top spot at the brewpub can get it back to the beer that won a bronze medal at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival.
4. Standing 8 Stout, Boxing Bear (54): Fresh off the line in cans, we all welcomed back an old favorite for the first time in a while. In general, everyone rated it as having a good, but not great, flavor and aroma. The mouthfeel was fairly strong. The finish, which one of us described as similar to a macadamia nut, was a bit off. This was a good stout, but it lacked a particular “oomph” that would set it apart.
3. Obliviscaris Stout, Kilt Check (58.5): A solid entry, this one nonetheless had us all slightly off from one another in terms of what we each tasted. Brandon picked up on a lot of deep roast and dark chocolate. Maureen found there to be some sweet coffee and mild licorice flavors. Erin found it to be drier, with more of a robust coffee bean flavor. I just thought it tasted like a classic stout, a throwback to years past, before everyone wanted stouts to be sweeter than sweet, overloaded with adjuncts. If you prefer the old school, you will like this stout.
2. Brickie American Stout, Steel Bender (62): We all probably spend a little time trying to guess which stout is which, and for a change, I correctly called this one as being Brickie. The flavors here were complex, a mix of dark fruit and heavy roast. The mouthfeel was strong, but not overly thick. Robust was the word of the day with this entry, and it was a deserving runner-up among the dozen entries.
And the winner …
Dark ‘n Lusty Stout, Canteen (71.5): The 2018 winner claimed its second title. This was the first stout we tried, and it ended up the best of the bunch. It was another old-school, roasty stout, with a strong-but-not-overpowering aroma. The flavor was dark chocolate and roast, with a smooth mouthfeel, and a clean finish. All five of us chose this as our favorite among the entries, which was a first for this just-for-fun competition. After this beer tumbled down to 18th out of 21 entries in 2020, it roared back to its proper place near the top. For a year-round entry, it remains one of the best in town.
In the end, we all thank Dan for stepping up to both host us and to handle the pouring of the beers. It was a much-needed good time for all of us, followed by some quality fire pit drinking, with discussions on music, hockey, soccer, and craft beer, all to a solid soundtrack of multiple music genres (when the various Bluetooth speakers were functional, of course).
We always send out our thanks to the participating breweries. While the outcomes for many are not what they had hoped for, we still appreciate the fact that they are brewing stouts free from adjuncts in this era when the sweetest beer is the most popular beer, or at least that is how it seems to be from all the social media posts around town.
If any brewer wishes to go more in-depth about why his/her/their beer did not (or did) meet expectations, we would be happy to discuss this one-on-one, on or off the record.
Keep supporting local!