Archive for the ‘Beer Battle’ Category

The Magnificent Seven we are not, but then again, none of us died drinking all these stouts (though we were worried about E-Rock for a while).

We drank four gallons of stout. Somehow, we are still alive.

Seven members of the Dark Side Brew Crew gathered on Super Bowl Sunday to judge 17 stouts from around the ABQ metro area in a blind taste test. For the seventh time in seven years, a different brewery took home the 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. None came close to perfection, but there was definitely a top tier. We did have one slight problem, as someone (Luke!) forgot to check his email and see he had three stouts to pick up from Bombs Away, Kellys, and Quarter Celtic. Friend-of-the-Crew and past guest judge Tim went and got the latter two for us, but due to the police situation shutting down I-40 and a lack of time, he was not able to get to Bombs Away. We promise that next year, Luke will read his email and BABC will be a part of Stout Challenge VIII.

For now, here are the results of Stout Challenge VII, from bottom to top. (Apologies for this appearing Tuesday instead of Monday, but the damn game was so exciting that I was unable to start writing it until my lunch break at work the following day, and that proved to not nearly be long enough.)

That was a lot of beer. man.

17. Cazuela’s Beer For My Horses (28.5 points): Stouts should not be sour. Stouts should not be sour. Stouts should not be sour. Something went wrong with this beer. Very wrong.

16. Sidetrack Dark Engine Stout (45.5): Brewed on one of the smaller systems in town, this stout just screams for more. More malt, mainly, to produce more flavor and a stronger mouthfeel. It came off as far too light in all aspects, more along the lines of a dark lager than a true stout.

15. Kaktus C-Thru Stout (54): We had hoped to have brewer Michael Waddy join us, but alas, he was not able to attend. E-Rock scrambled and picked up a stout, but it turned out to be the brewery’s pale stout. It had a heavy coffee aroma and flavor, but the body and slightly sweet/hoppy finish made it seem more like a coffee pale ale than a true stout.

14. Bosque Driftwood (57.5): Currently on tap as just a seasonal, we included it because it is a past house beer and has been on a seasonal tap for quite some time. Unfortunately, it just did not have much going on. Several Crew members felt it was closer to a porter than a true stout, just coming off as too light in flavor and mouthfeel.

13. Starr Brothers Foggy Monocle (62): The 2017 champion took a tumble this year. The aroma received mixed reviews, with some enjoying the slightly doughy, fruity scent, but others did not. The mouthfeel was good, but the flavor just was not there this year.

12. Palmer Switch Stance (63.5): We had this and the Foggy back-to-back, and the aromas were nearly so identical as to cause most of us to ask Margaret, who handles all the pouring, if she had not re-poured the same beer. The mouthfeel was good initially, but the flavor just came off as dry and thin, particularly on the back end.

11. Tractor Double Plow (64): The 2014 champion, which was runner-up last year and the closest ever to being a two-time winner, took a tumble down the standings. There simply was not much in the aroma, flavor, or mouthfeel. That past cookie dough flavor just was not there.

10. Steel Bender Blue Bullet (68): The other Irish-style stout on the list besides Switch Stance, this one started off with a good, roasty aroma. The flavor, though, just does not pop as much as its oatmeal counterparts. It still comes off as a promising start for SBB, which was in its first Stout Challenge.

9. Turtle Mountain Stauffenberg (69): We picked up on a good amount of flavor here, but there was not much in terms of aroma or mouthfeel. The flavor did not last, either.

8. Rio Bravo Oatmeal (69.5): The aroma was the biggest plus with most of us. It almost had a slight barrel element to it. The flavor disappeared fairly quickly, but there was nothing objectionable about it. It just needs to be a bit chewier.

7. La Cumbre Malpais (78.5): The 2013 champion was solid this time, but failed to really pop in any category. As it is not an oatmeal stout, perhaps, it just suffered a bit in comparison, coming off as drier and less smooth. It was still the best non-oatmeal stout of the bunch.

6. Marble Oatmeal (81.5): Our first champion from back in 2012 had a nice rebound year. The flavor of smoky oats seemed to get better from start to finish. The mouthfeel was fairly strong.

5. Quarter Celtic MacLomas (87): The phrase “dessert beer” got tossed around with this one. Yeah, it’s sweet, but not overly so.

4. Drafty Kilt Obliviscaris (88): An impressive showing for the soon to be renamed brewery in its first Stout Challenge. There were strong chocolate/mocha notes, from the aroma to the flavor. The body was dry, while keeping its flavor throughout.

3. Boxing Bear Standing 8 (90): A delightful batch from the past champion (2015). The aroma had a strong chocolate element to draw us in, while the flavor may have been the most complex of all 17 samples. This remains one of the finest year-round stouts in the state.

2. Kellys Sleeping Dog (90.5): A heavy chocolate flavor was the dominant feature here. It really did remind us of the previous incarnation at Chama River, which won the title in 2016. The aroma had traces of coffee. This is the type of beer that has us all encouraged for the future at Kellys.

1. Canteen Dark ‘n Lusty (98.5): Well, hello there, old friend. Head brewer Zach Guilmette told us a few months ago that he changed up the recipe to bring DnL up to modern standards. It certainly has done that and more. The aroma tells you how strong and tough of a beer this is, with a pronounced dark licorice/anise element. The flavor is consistent throughout, both bold and roasty and yet still sweet. Truly a worthy champion for 2018!

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

Stoutmeister: 1) Drafty Kilt 16.5, 2) Boxing Bear 16, 3) Canteen 13.5

Franz Solo: 1) Boxing Bear 14, 2) Canteen and Drafty Kilt 13.5

Mrs. Solo: 1) Canteen 16, 2) Kellys 14, 3) Quarter Celtic 13

E-Rock: 1) Boxing Bear 15, 2) Canteen, La Cumbre and Rio Bravo 14

Brandon: 1) Canteen 18, 2) Boxing Bear and Palmer 15

Luke: 1) La Cumbre 15.5, 2) Marble 15, 3) Kellys 14.5

Andrew: 1) La Cumbre and Quarter Celtic 14, 3) Marble, Steel Bender and Turtle Mountain 13

After the game, there was fire, and metal, and all was good and right with the world again. Thanks, Nick Foles!

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

Will another brewery take the Stout Challenge helmet trophy away from Starr Brothers this year? Or will we have our first repeat winner?

As more and more breweries open around the Albuquerque metro area, more and more stouts keep getting added to our annual Stout Challenge. Luckily, this year for the seventh edition, we should (hopefully, maybe) have more Crew members present than ever before to drink them all.

For those who have not followed us for long, every Super Bowl Sunday the Crew gathers at Franz Solo’s house, armed with as many house stouts as we can fit into growlers. With the lovely Ms. Margaret as our volunteer pouring guru, we try them in a blind taste test not dissimilar to the IPA Challenge. Our goal is to try the stouts that are on regularly throughout the year and determine which one is our personal favorite, based around the categories of aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish.

For anyone who thinks that this probably just means we are ranking the same top four or five stouts every year, er, well, no. In fact, in six years of doing this, we have never had a brewery win twice, much less even repeat. Here are the past winners.

Hey, it’s our 2016 Stout Challenge group photo again because apparently we forgot to take any pictures in 2017. Whoops.

This year the field is wide open. We could have as many as 18 stouts to choose among, which would easily be the record. We may even have a special “celebrity” guest judge this year, but we won’t spoil his identity in advance.

Here are the potential 18 stouts that we will be sampling. Any marked with a * would be a first-time participant. The others have numbers in parentheses for their finish last year.

  1. Bombs Away Stockpile Stout*
  2. Bosque Driftwood (10th)
  3. Boxing Bear Standing 8 (11th)
  4. Canteen Dark ‘n Lusty (3rd)
  5. Cazuela’s Beer for my Horses (14th)
  6. Drafty Kilt Obliviscaris*
  7. Kaktus Oatmeal Stout*
  8. Kellys Sleeping Dog (6th, made at Chama River last year)
  9. La Cumbre Malpais (4th)
  10. Marble Oatmeal Stout (5th)
  11. Palmer Switch Stance Stout*
  12. Quarter Celtic MacLomas*
  13. Rio Bravo Oatmeal Stout (12th)
  14. Sidetrack Dark Engine* (Stoker Stout was 8th last year)
  15. Starr Brothers Foggy Monocle (1st)
  16. Steel Bender Blue Bullet*
  17. Tractor Double Plow (2nd)
  18. Turtle Mountain Stauffenberg (9th)

We will share some pictures and the like on social media Sunday, but the full results will wait until Monday. Enjoy the game, if you can, or at least the commercials. Please remember, if you do go past the limit, Lyft and Uber are there for you as options, or make sure there is a designated driver if you are leaving home to watch the game.

Cheers to the darkness!

— Stoutmeister

Our sixth annual Stout Challenge brought about a sixth different winner.

Our sixth annual Stout Challenge brought about a sixth different winner.

Amid all the seriousness of the weekend, the Brew Crew was still able to gather to hold our annual Stout Challenge before the start of the Super Bowl. While the game featured an improbable rally by the favorite, our blind taste test featured an upset by one of the newer breweries in town.

For the sixth time, we have a new winner. A past winner came oh-so-close to becoming our first two-time champion. We structure the event similar to the IPA Challenge, but with variations. We go around the day of the event, fill our half-growlers (or full growlers for last year’s top finishers), and then bring them to Franz Solo’s house. Our friend Margaret then pours them into numbered glasses out of sight, and we try them one by one, rather than put all on a tray. We take notes and score them from zero to five points in the categories of aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish, and add them up.

We were short quite a few Crew members this year. Illness knocked out Brandon, Luke, and Shawna. E-Rock was unable to make it back from his musical adventures in Texas in time. Shilling was studying. Porter Pounder was on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise again. Thus, only myself, Franz, Mrs. Solo, Kristin, and guest judge Tim (Margaret’s husband) were available.

Also, after reporting 16 stouts Friday, we ended up two shy, as Bow & Arrow did not open until it was too late for us to pick up their Storm & Hearth, and Twisted Chile was unable to deliver their Irish stout from Socorro.

As always, these are our opinions. We could be wrong.

14. Cazuela’s Beer for my Horses (19.5 points): This was the only truly disappointing stout among the batch. The flavor was almost sour (my opinion) or salty (Franz’s opinion). It was too thin in the mouthfeel. We have no idea what happened with this batch.

13. Santa Fe Dysphotic Stout (45.5): None of us disliked this robust, almost hop-forward stout, it was just that when stacked up against a field of mostly oatmeal variants, it stood out almost as more of a black IPA than anything. Basically, it is a stout that stands alone in the current available field in the ABQ metro area.

12. Rio Bravo Oatmeal Stout (46): While it did not move up in the standings that much, Rio Bravo’s entry scored much better this time around. The aroma scored the highest, with some mixed feelings on the flavor and mouthfeel. Overall it just came off as a bit light for what we look for in a stout.

11. Boxing Bear Standing 8 Stout (47.5): Every year there seems to be one of the top stouts from the previous year that falls way down the ladder. The main complaint here was in the bitter, overly smoky flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel. It was similar to Dysphotic, but with more malt and less hops.

10. Bosque Driftwood Oatmeal Stout (48): We found this batch to be a little on the thin side, with the most negative marks coming in terms of its mouthfeel, or lack thereof. The flavor was good, quite a bit sweet up front, but it faded pretty quickly.

9. Turtle Mountain Stauffenberg Stout (52.5): This was the first stout we sampled, so in many ways, it served as the base line for all that followed. In general everyone liked it, though it was noted as being just a tad short in all four categories. Still, we would call it perfectly drinkable.

8. Sidetrack Stoker Stout (53): A significant improvement on their stout from last year, this batch was quite a bit smokier and more roasted. Those were probably the biggest attributes, good or bad, with our voters.

7. The 377 Full Booty Stout (56): The top word used to describe our newest brewery’s oatmeal stout was “dry,” which accounted for much of the flavor and mouthfeel for folks. Some scored that well, others did not. The thickness of the mouthfeel scored the highest with most of us.

6. Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout (58): The 2016 champion could not pull off the repeat. The flavor and aroma this time around was sweet, with a pronounced vanilla element, but otherwise it lacked enough mouthfeel and overall complexity. It remains quite good, but not quite on par with last year.

5. Marble Oatmeal Stout (59): If there is a stout deserving of the title of “old reliable,” it is our 2012 champion, which still ranks among the best in town. There was a sweet, almost vanilla flavor and aroma at the front. The mouthfeel and finish saw some contrasting opinions with the five of us.

4. La Cumbre Malpais Stout (61): Unlike most La Cumbre beers, this did not have much of an aroma to draw you in. It did have a smokier, heavier flavor, scoring highest in mouthfeel and finish. The 2013 champion remains one of the best in town, though it is definitely not for those who like their stouts sweeter.

3. Canteen Dark n’ Lusty Stout (62.5): No stout has yo-yoed up and down more in our Stout Challenge the last six years than Canteen’s staple. It has finished seventh (out of eight), fifth (out of 10), 10th (out of 10), second (out of 14), 11th (out of 14), and now it’s third. This batch had a lot of chocolate flavor. It was sweet and solid, but just lacked the flavor complexity to claim its first title.

2. Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout (70): My personal favorite in the bunch, it came up just short of being our first two-time winner (2014 was its previous victory). That cookie dough-like flavor was back at the front, with lots of chocolate up front and hints of smoke on the back end. The mouthfeel was solid throughout.

1. Starr Brothers Foggy Monocle (71.5): First Stout Challenge, first victory! Brewer Rob Whitlock said he actually prefers his Roisin Dubh, an Irish dry stout, to this. Guess he will have to change his mind now. The flavor (roasty coffee) and mouthfeel (thick and creamy smooth) scored especially high with our group.

We will have our Stout Challenge helmet trophy ready soon to be presented to Starr Brothers. Congrats to Rob and their entire staff!

As always, here are our individual point totals for each beer, to see where we agreed and disagreed on each.

  • Stoutmeister: 1) Tractor 13.5, 2) Chama River 11, 3) Canteen 10.5, 4) La Cumbre and Marble 9.5, 6) Boxing Bear and The 377 and Starr Brothers 9, 9) Bosque 8.5, 10) Sidetrack and Turtle Mountain 8, 12) Santa Fe and Rio Bravo 7, 14) Cazuela’s 3
  • Franz Solo: 1) Tractor 16.5, 2) Starr Brothers 16, 3) Canteen 15.5, 4) La Cumber 15, 5) Boxing Bear and Sidetrack 13.5, 7) The 377 12.5, 8) Chama River and Turtle Mountain 12, 10) Marble and Santa Fe 11, 12) Bosque and Rio Bravo 7, 14) Cazuela’s 3
  • Mrs. Solo: 1) Starr Brothers 16.5, 2) Tractor 15.5, 3) Canteen and Sidetrack 12, 5) La Cumbre and Marble and The 377 and Rio Bravo 11, 9) Bosque 10.5, 10) Chama River and Turtle Mountain 10, 12) Santa Fe 7, 13) Boxing Bear 6, 14) Cazuela’s 4
  • Kristin: 1) La Cumbre 16.5, 2) Starr Brothers 16, 3) Marble 15, 4) Chama River 13, 5) Rio Bravo and Turtle Mountain 12.5, 7) Bosque 12, 8) Boxing Bear and Canteen 11.5, 10) The 377 and Tractor 11, 12) Sidetrack 10.5, 13) Santa Fe 10, 14) Cazuela’s 5
  • Tim: 1) Starr Brothers 14, 2) Tractor 13.5, 3) Canteen 13, 4) The 377 and Marble 12.5, 6) Chama River 12, 7) Santa Fe 10.5, 8) Bosque and Turtle Mountain 10, 10) La Cumbre and Sidetrack 9, 12) Rio Bravo 8.5, 13) Boxing Bear 7.5, 14) Cazuela’s 4.5

Once again, these are just our opinions. We invite everyone to go out and try all these stouts, whether it’s for the 100th time or the first time. Our local breweries are doing a great job with the darker side of beer, and we couldn’t be happier on the whole.

We will have more on the weekend’s serious news about Senate Bill 314 and the contentious town hall meeting on Tuesday, once we put everything together.

Until then, keep supporting local breweries!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Another successful year on the Dark Side.

Who will we choose at Stout Challenge VI? Odds are it will be a first-time winner.

Well, it is that time of year again. The Super Bowl is this Sunday, which means it is also time for the sixth annual NM Dark Side Brew Crew Stout Challenge. We fill up growlers of stout from breweries around the ABQ metro area and then hold a blind taste test to determine which one is our favorite. All of this is done pregame at Franz Solo’s house, which should help put us in a good state of mind, even as we watch the Evil Empire obliterate the poor Falcons and keep 2017 stumbling along to oblivion.

The five prior editions have produced five different champions.

This time around we have a whole lotta stouts in the competition. Part of that is due to the (seeming) never-ending opening of new breweries, of course, plus others have a stout available for us unlike years past. As always, this list is quite subject to change, as we learned before. Sometimes the stout runs out, sometimes the brewery does not keep the same hours, and so on. For now, though, these are the 16 combatants for Sunday, listed in brewery alphabetical order. First-time participants get a little * by the beer name.

  1. Bosque Driftwood Oatmeal Stout
  2. Bow & Arrow Storm & Hearth*
  3. Boxing Bear Standing 8 Stout
  4. Canteen Dark ‘n Lusty Stout
  5. Cazuela’s Beer For My Horses
  6. Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout
  7. La Cumbre Malpais Stout
  8. Marble Oatmeal Stout
  9. Rio Bravo Oatmeal Stout* (we had the Black Angus Stout last year)
  10. Santa Fe Dysphotic Stout
  11. Sidetrack Stoker Stout
  12. Starr Brothers Roisin Dubh* or Foggy Monocle* (to be determined by a Friday taste-off by yours truly)
  13. The 377 Oatmeal Stout*
  14. Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout
  15. Turtle Mountain Stauffenberg Stout
  16. Twisted Chile Irish Dry Stout

As always, we will be very careful after consuming so many stout samples. We will also be consuming ribs, rum ham, and a stew made with Vulgar Display of Porter, our collaboration beer with Tractor (which is still on tap at both locations, FYI).

Once we have tabulated all the votes, a winner will be announced. Oh, and we have an awesome new trophy to give to the winning brewery.

Meet the Stout Challenge trophy. Holiday mirth not included.

Meet the Stout Challenge trophy. Holiday mirth not included.

Look for the full recap Monday afternoon, and stay tuned to our social media accounts for pictures, anecdotes, and the like all day Sunday.

After all, when the game itself gets inevitably out of hand, beer will be our only friend left.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

So many stouts, so little time. But we did it, again. Clockwise from left, Shilling, Porter Pounder, E-Rock, Stoutmeister, Mrs. Solo (Picture by Franz Solo)

We’ll be missing a couple of these smiling faces this year, but we’ll still have plenty of stout.

Super Bowl Sunday is almost upon us once again, and while folks will pick between the old (Denver and Peyton) and the new (Carolina and Cam), all of us in the Crew will choose something even more important. Namely, who has the best stout in the ABQ metro area.

As we have done four times before, we will hold a blind taste test of the best regular or “house” stouts. Be they oatmeal, foreign export, American, or even cream/milk stouts, these are the ones available (almost) year round, their darkness calling to us whether it’s warm or cold outside.

Every year the Stout Challenge gets a little bigger with more and more breweries opening. This year we project to have 15 stouts, one more than last year. There are a few stouts gone from last year’s 14 — Drunken Hobo Milk Stout (Broken Bottle, which closed), Dry Stout (Nexus, unavailable this year), KC’s Traditional Irish Stout (Twisted Chile, unavailable this year). Those stouts finished ninth, fifth, and third last year, so they will be missed. Here is this year’s projected lineup, with last year’s finish in parentheses.

  • Albuquerque Brewing’s Handlebars Stout (new)
  • Bosque’s Driftwood Oatmeal Stout (12th)
  • Boxing Bear’s Standing 8 Stout (1st)
  • Canteen’s Dark & Lusty Stout (2nd)
  • Cazuela’s Beer For My Horses Oatmeal Stout (7th)
  • Chama River’s Sleeping Dog Stout (10th)
  • Kaktus’ Stout (8th)
  • La Cumbre’s Malpais Stout (6th)
  • Lizard Tail’s Oatmeal Stout (in a mix-up last year, we got the Rye Stout, which was 13th)
  • Marble’s Oatmeal Stout (14th)
  • Ponderosa’s Zaftig Oatmeal Stout (new)
  • Rio Bravo’s Black Angus Stout (new)
  • Sidetrack’s Dark Engine Stout (new)
  • Tractor’s Double Plow Oatmeal Stout (4th)
  • Turtle Mountain’s Stauffenberg Stout (11th)

Assuming are available, we will face quite the challenge this year. Part of that has to do with only six of us being available to drink these obsidian elixirs. Porter Pounder is on a cruise ship with heavy metal bands (no, really, he is), E-Rock is playing music on the other side of the country, and Kristin is the only member of the Bullpen who can make it over Sunday. That leaves her, plus yours truly, Brandon, Shilling (he lives!), Franz Solo, and Mrs. Solo. If anyone asks why we’re going to mostly only fill half-growlers, well, now you know why.

As we have done in the past, it will be a blind taste test. We rank the stouts on a point system in different categories, then total up the scores.

This could be the first year we have a repeat winner, or even a second-time winner, or perhaps someone different will take the fifth crown. To recap the previous years’ winners:

2015: Boxing Bear KOs the competition

2014: Tractor double plows the field

2013: La Cumbre conquers all

2012: Marble rolls to the opening win

We shall see who claims top honors this time, and then we will stack up our results against the upcoming Stout Invitational at Bathtub Row on Feb. 20.

So many stouts, so little time. Viva Super Bowl Sunday!

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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 many stouts, so little time. But we did it, again. Clockwise from left, Shilling, Porter Pounder, E-Rock, Stoutmeister, Mrs. Solo (Picture by Franz Solo)

So many stouts, so little time. But we did it, again. Clockwise from left, Shilling, Porter Pounder, E-Rock, Stoutmeister, Mrs. Solo (Picture by Franz Solo)

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.

The growlers were filled with care, in hopes that a stout challenge victory would soon be there.

The growlers were filled with care, in hopes that a stout challenge victory would soon be there.

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!

Mrs. Solo spared the rest of us from doing math afterwards. We appreciate it.

Mrs. Solo spared the rest of us from doing math afterwards. We appreciate it.

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.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

Greetings, everyone, on this snowy Friday. Do be careful out there tonight when in pursuit of beer. Stuff is melting but not evaporating, so that means sheets of ice. And New Mexico drivers are bad enough without ice under their tires, so go slow if you desperately need some nocturnal pints.

Scenes from the 2014 Stout Challenge shall be repeated this Sunday.

Scenes from the 2014 Stout Challenge shall be repeated this Sunday before the Super Bowl.

By Sunday, though, all should be nice and clear in time for the Dark Side Brew Crew to gather at Franz Solo’s house and resume our annual Super Bowl tradition, The Stout Challenge. As we have for the past three years, we will be rounding up every brewery’s “house” stout, be it oatmeal, dry, or this year even milk stout (no imperial stouts or coffee stouts is the lone rule). In a few cases, if a notable brewery has a seasonal stout that fits the criteria on tap, we might let them in as well.

Based on the most recent edition of The Week Ahead in Beer, this will be the stout lineup all of us (sans Brandon, more on that below) will be judging via the same blind taste test format as the IPA Challenge.

  • Bosque Driftwood Oatmeal Stout
  • Boxing Bear Standing 8 Stout
  • Broken Bottle Drunken Hobo Milk Stout (if available)
  • Canteen Dark ‘n Lusty Stout
  • Cazuela’s Beer For My Horses Oatmeal Stout (if available)
  • Chama River Sleeping Dog Stout
  • Kaktus Oatmeal Stout (if available)
  • La Cumbre Malpais Stout
  • Lizard Tail Smoot-tailed Oatmeal Stout
  • Marble Oatmeal Stout
  • Nexus Dry Stout (if available)
  • Red Door Paint it Black Milk Stout
  • Sandia Chile Grill Rio Negro Milk Stout (if available)
  • Tractor Double Plow Oatmeal Stout
  • Turtle Mountain Stauffenberg Stout

If Luke comes down from Santa Fe, we might add Blue Corn’s Gold Medal Oatmeal Stout and Second Street’s Cream Stout to the list. That is potentially a whole lot of stouts to sample, but we figure if our palates can handle 16 IPAs every summer, we can handle this.

We're gonna need a lot more cups this year.

We’re gonna need a lot more cups this year.

Rather than a total points score this year we will average out the beer scores, similar to what Untappd does (if everything averages out to 3.70, we apologize in advance to Bosque’s Gabe Jensen, who is convinced that there is faulty math on that app since almost every beer is scored 3.70). That is since Shilling and milk/cream stouts do not get along from a health perspective. And Brandon is out of the competition this year due to the fact his girlfriend Taylor just gave birth to the first Brew Crew baby, adorable little Bannon, back on Monday. I visited them last night with Budai Chinese food and a bomber of Chama’s De-cen-ni-ale. They’re a wee bit tired, to put it mildly. That bomber is going in storage for a while and I’m pretty sure if they had more than a pint of beer right now, both would instantly fall asleep for a few hours. And none of us are changing diapers.

The biggest question most will ask is “who will win?” Honestly, we have no idea. If you go back through the last three Stout Challenges, it was a different winner each time. Even the order of how the beers stacked up varied greatly from year to year. There will be a lot of new entrants this year, so it’s really anybody’s game.

To further prep you for what we’re in for and what you’ll be reading come Monday (provided I’m not too hungover to recap before I go to work at 1 p.m.), here are the links to the last three Stout Challenges.

We hope you all have a great weekend, regardless of who wins (unless it’s the Patriots, because f— that team). Be careful out there before and after the game. Hopefully wherever you’re watching will have multiple places to crash just like Franz Solo’s house does, should the need arise. Otherwise, find a DD, call a taxi, or Uber, or whatever you need to do.

We just want to make sure you’re all still around when we do post the recap so you can go, “What the hell? You guys are idiots, that’s not the best stout!” Hey, a little post-game debate about the virtues of great stouts is something we would look forward to, should you all wish to chat.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

The Brew Crew gathered at Franz Solo’s house this Sunday for our first Oktoberfest challenge. Like our previous challenges, it was a blind taste test (thanks to our wonderful beer maiden, Taylor). This was the first time we felt there were enough marzen-style beers on tap at the same time to hold this sort of challenge. And yet, we still ended up short of our projected seven due to La Cumbre having run out of theirs on Saturday (in their defense, the brewing staff was a bit busy up in Denver with GABF and all). Instead of a lucky seven we had a pick six.

The Crew carefully studies their Oktoberfest samples.

The Crew carefully studies their Oktoberfest samples.

The contenders were from Back Alley, Boxing Bear, Broken Bottle, Ponderosa, Tractor, and Turtle Mountain. We obtained our growlers and half-growlers and, following a feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, and green chile mac-n-cheese (Porter Pounder brought that delicious dish), we sat down to try all six Oktoberfests via a blind taste test format, similar to what the rest of you experience at the IPA Challenge every year.

Each Oktoberfest brought something a little different to the table. One even had a hoppy bite of sorts, a truly different take on the style. Another used a copious amount of wheat malt, which is not unheard of at some traditional German breweries. Our respective rankings will be listed below the overall rankings, which are a compilation of our individual scores. We graded the beer in four categories — aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish — with scores from zero to five, with half-points allowed.

Without further adieu, from sixth to first, here are the Crew’s picks for the top Oktoberfest beers currently on tap in the ABQ metro area.

6. Ponderosa (61 points): We were all a little thrown by this beer, which goes off an old German recipe for a marzen that calls for the use of wheat malt. I had a German Oktoberfest that did this (Erdinger) and it seemed a little off the style we’re all more generally used to. The wheat malt gave it a bitter finish, which is pretty much where it scored the lowest for each of us. We know Matt can’t tinker too much with some of the recipes he’s given from the brewmaster in Portland, but a little less wheat would be a good thing. Individual scores: Brandon 10, E-Rock 15, Franz Solo 9, Mrs. Solo 10, Porter Pounder 7, Stoutmeister 10.

5. Back Alley (61.5 points): Addison later told Brandon that this was from the bottom of a keg, and it seemed to show in our scores. We all liked it better when we tried it at Hopfest. The carbonation, in particular, seemed to have flattened out. It led to an “uneven” flavor profile, as Franz Solo wrote. When it pours right, this one has a good amount of sweetness without being overly sugary. We’ll all have to trek downtown and try this one again from a fresher keg. Individual scores: Brandon 11, E-Rock 12, Franz Solo 10.5, Mrs. Solo 10, Porter Pounder 8, Stoutmeister 10.

4. Tractor (70.5 points): This one surprised the heck out of me. I’d had Tractoberfest down at Wells Park and it tasted great. Something was off with this batch that I got from Nob Hill. Maybe it was the growler, maybe it was a recently cleaned line, but I picked up something almost soapy here (one other person agreed, the rest did not, so maybe my tastebuds were just off). This was the last beer we tried, so perhaps our palates were tired. It certainly produced a very wide range of scores. Individual scores: Brandon 16, E-Rock 12, Franz Solo 8, Mrs. Solo 13, Porter Pounder 14, Stoutmeister 7.5.

And once we were done with the blind taste test, Franz Solo brought out Das Boot so we could finish the growlers.

And once we were done with the blind taste test, Franz Solo brought out Das Boot so we could finish the growlers.

3. Broken Bottle (81 points): Most of us haven’t been to Broken Bottle in a while as it’s far from our homes and we’ve been too busy trying to keep up with all the new places. Perhaps it’s time we went back, if this beer is any indication. One of the best aromas of the bunch invited us in. It was a unique beer in that the malts produced both a sweetness and a bitterness that hit you at once. It was quite smooth as well. Individual scores: Brandon 12, E-Rock 13, Franz Solo 14, Mrs. Solo 12, Porter Pounder 15, Stoutmeister 15.

2. Boxing Bear (84.5 points): What’s an Oktoberfest that’s not an Oktoberfest? It’s an Oktobearfest, Boxing Bear’s inaugural variation on the style. Right from the aroma you could tell this beer is different. The nose is greeted by a mix of Northwestern hops, with that pine scent so familiar to many pale ales and beers of that sort. The flavor carried through the hops as well, as they were stronger than the malts, save for on the finish, when the malty sweetness came through. As someone put it best, “This isn’t an Oktoberfest, but it’s a damn fine beer.” Trek over to Boxing Bear and decide for yourselves. We expect a wide range of responses to this brew. Individual scores: Brandon 15.5, E-Rock 14, Franz Solo 17.5, Mrs. Solo 13, Porter Pounder 13, Stoutmeister 11.5.

1. Turtle Mountain (86.5 points): Congrats to brewer Tim Woodward, who claimed this title with a sweet little malt monster of a beer. The malt sweetness is the biggest defining factor of this beer. Those who scored it highest obviously love that, those who scored lowest thought it was too much. Overall it scored strongly in mouthfeel and finish as well as flavor. Compared to Oktobearfest this beer was pretty much the opposite. Right now it scores as the best in the ABQ metro area, though Bosque and Chama River still have Oktos to come, La Cumbre could always bring theirs back, and I got to try Blue Corn’s up in Santa Fe on Monday and it was excellent as well. For now, though, Turtle Mountain gets to wear the crown. Individual scores: Brandon 13.5, E-Rock 14, Franz Solo 18.5, Mrs. Solo 11, Porter Pounder 14, Stoutmeister 15.5.

We’ll have a pumpkin beer challenge coming up in the weeks ahead. That one should be interesting considering the wide variety of pumpkin beers this year, from the more traditional (La Cumbre’s Witch’s Tit) to the darker (Ponderosa’s Chocolate Pumpkin Porter) to the funky (Canteen’s Pumpkin Saison).

Until then, we encourage everyone to head out and try all of these grand Oktoberfest beers for yourselves. Let us know what you think is the best in town. And then head up to Santa Fe to see which one up there between Blue Corn, SFBC, and Second Street, is the best.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

The Dark Side Brew Crew gathered last weekend for a blind taste test to determine the best hefeweizen in the ABQ metro area. Mrs. Solo and I hosted the event with Stoutmeister, E-Rock, Porter Pounder, and Brandon present from the original Crew. Only Shilling was absent due to his job. Brandon’s awesome girlfriend Taylor handled the pouring of the beers so as not to disrupt the blind taste test format for any Crew member.

The growlers and half-growlers for the Hefe Challenge. That's Kaktus in the Tractor half-growler.

The growlers and half-growlers for the Hefe Challenge. That’s Kaktus in the Tractor half-growler.

This challenge was first conceived in late May during beer week. Mrs. Solo and I were intent on expanding our Dark Side beer challenges beyond our Super Bowl of Stouts and this year’s mini Irish Red challenge. Of the available summer seasonal brews we considered Pilsner and Kolsch before agreeing with the Crew that Hefeweizen was the ticket.

From our Duke City breweries we managed to acquire five distinct entrants which battled for supremacy on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Our challengers were as follows (in order of tasting): Cazuela’s Hefeweizen, Kaktus’ Bananaweizen, Chama River’s Hefe Nice Day!, Boxing Bear’s Hairy Mit Hefe, and La Cumbre’s A Slice of Hefen. We would have liked to have had a couple of other entrants (Bosque’s hefe would have been a contender), but sadly they were not available at the time of our challenge.

A rare gathering of multiple Crew members. Clockwise from left, Stoutmeister, Porter Pounder, E-Rock, Brandon, Mrs. Solo, Franz Solo. Picture courtesy of Brandon's awesome girlfriend.

A rare gathering of multiple Crew members. Clockwise from left, Stoutmeister, Porter Pounder, E-Rock, Brandon, Mrs. Solo, Franz Solo. Picture courtesy of Brandon’s awesome girlfriend.

Our field of five ran the gauntlet of what one finds in a Hefeweizen — hints of banana, wheat, tart citrus, and yeasty goodness. We were 5-1 in our decision of a champion. With 92.5 out of a possible 120 points, Chama’s Hefe Nice Day! is our choice for best Hefe in ‘Burque. Second place goes to Boxing Bear with 85.5 points, third place to Cazuela’s with 81.5, fourth place to La Cumbre with 80, and fifth place to Kaktus with 52. (Take note on Kaktus’ low score, the keg blew halfway through filling the half-growler, so they had to change kegs. Perhaps batch #1 and #2 were a bit different, resulting in some strange flavors that we don’t normally associate with Kaktus’ beers. — Stoutmeister)

We rated each of these brews using the same criteria as our stout challenge: aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish. Our consensus was that Hefe Nice Day! had a good banana flavor with hints of clove, and a nice, thick mouthfeel to back up the also well-received aroma. I (Franz Solo) was impressed with the orange citrus aroma and the banana bread flavor of our champion.

This was a nice and strong field of hefeweizens which we thoroughly enjoyed. So until the next beer battle this fall (we’re hoping for Oktoberfests or pumpkin beers), grab a pint of local hefeweizen and enjoy!

Prost!

— Franz Solo, Mrs. Solo, and the rest of the Crew

The Crew, well half of us, gathered last year a week after St. Patrick’s Day to select the best Irish Red Ale that was being poured in the ABQ metro area. There were three of us choosing among just four reds, so it worked as basically a scaled-down version of our annual Super Bowl Stout Challenge. This year, since a certain someone was not in Arizona to cover spring training, we held our second Irish Red Challenge on St. Patrick’s Day itself.

Our big and small growlers were filled up and ready to go for the Irish Red Challenge. And no, the brewery labels on the outside did not correspond to the beers within.

Our big and small growlers were filled up and ready to go for the Irish Red Challenge. And no, the brewery labels on the outside did not correspond to the beers within.

Sadly, the great holiday fell on a Monday this year, so even though the Crew is now seven members strong, there again was just three of us, with Mrs. Solo taking the place of E-Rock, who was unavailable this year. Meanwhile, Porter Pounder, Brandon, and Shilling were all working, which is good, because now they can buy more beer. It was thus up to myself and the Solos to choose among five Irish reds this year. Both La Cumbre, last year’s runner-up, and Marble were not present this year. The breweries elected to make Irish-style dry stouts instead for the holiday. Only defending champion Il Vicino and Chama River returned, while new to the competition were Nexus, Turtle Mountain, and Kaktus (which did not even exist as a brewery when the last challenge was held). Other breweries may have red ales, but those tend to be year-round offerings and not in the Irish style, so they were left out. We did try to bring Sandia Chile Grill into this year’s challenge, but they were mysteriously closed on Monday when I stopped by.

Because there were just three of us choosing from five beers, and our Stout Challenge beer maiden Lora was not around to help out, we did not do this year as a blind taste test (same with last year). I do not believe that we let any biases creep in to our selections, but that can be for others to debate. Without further adieu, our final rankings from numbers five to one. A first-place vote was worth five points, second-place worth four, and so on.

5. Turtle Mountain: There was something off about this red. Franz felt it came from burnt malts that occupy the entire middle segment of the flavor as it hits your palate. It certainly lacked any of the sweetness one would expect from a malty red. Total points: 3.

4. Chama River: The aroma was a little more pungent than we expected. That said, the flavor was fine, if a little light. The bite from the hops was very slight. Overall it was dry, maybe drier than we expected. Last year’s batch was more flavorful. Total points: 7.

3. Nexus: The aroma was wonderful, like a bouquet of roses. The beer we tasted afterward did not quite match the aroma. It was also quite dry, with minimal bite. The hops instead popped up on the back end, which made for a strange finish. Total points: 8.

2. Kaktus: The new guys did quite good. Mrs. Solo, in fact, said this was her favorite. Much like Nexus, it strikes you right away with its floral aroma. The flavor, though, is just like the aroma. It is a sweet taste of flowery goodness throughout. The only minor knock Franz Solo and I found was a lack of body, a bit of a thin mouthfeel. That’s all that kept it from dethroning our back-to-back champion. Total points: 13.

1. Il Vicino: Unlike the Stout Challenge, where a different brewery has won every year, Il Vicino’s popular Irish Red still reigns supreme. Compared to the rest, this is a big, flavorful beer. It has malty sweetness throughout, from start to finish. It is the only beer that maintains that consistency. The mouthfeel is thicker and more vibrant than Kaktus. Total points: 14.

As always, thanks to the breweries for still making this underrated beer style. We would still recommend to everyone out there to try all five of these beers and do your own ranking (though please, do not do so in one day while driving; they may not be high ABV beers, but they will catch up to you if you’re not doing small samples or doing the smart thing and taking them home in growlers).

Until our next beer challenge (we’re thinking pilsners when enough are available), the Crew will be getting back to tracking down the beer business news that is popping up every day.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister