The day I lug all the Halloween decorations down the stairs only to lug all the Christmas decorations up the stairs officially marks the start of stout season. When I think of Christmas, of course I think of spending time with family and all the other things I am required to think of. But mainly I think of enjoying a stout in the glow of the Christmas tree. Some people choose to countdown the days to Christmas by opening a little door on an advent calendar to reveal a chocolate. I do the same, but I open my fridge and reveal a cold stout. You tell me which one makes you more jolly.
Commencing December first, as I have for the past few holiday seasons, I'll enjoy a stout or porter each night until Christmas. But now since I have a blog, I'll tell you all about it. I thought it might be fun to do a blind tasting of each beer and score them based on a set of attributes similar to a how a beer is judged at competition.
Stout and Porter Selection
Although the blog post is titled The 25 Stouts of Christmas we can’t leave porters out this holiday season. You might ask what is the difference between stouts and porters. According to style guides, porters are lighter in colour and alcohol than stouts with a typical flavour profile of chocolate, coffee and caramel. On the other hand, Stouts have the same flavour profile but illicit more roasted and bitter flavours due to the addition of roasted malts. In my opinion the lines between stouts and porters continue to blur with modern brewers adding coffee to their porter recipes creating that roasty stout taste profile.
The stouts and porters I amassed are primarily from London Ontario breweries and those beers available at London Ontario LCBO locations. Where possible I bought direct from the brewery and I suggest you do to for freshness and support. With the prevalence of online brewery shops the majority of these beers are available to ship across Ontario. I also included a few foreign stouts for comparison. I omitted any fruit, nut or other flavoured stouts (coffee being the exception) as well as any barrel aged stouts.
Blind Tasting Method and Controls
All the stouts were stored together in the same fridge to ensure a consistent temperature, and I used the same clean glass for each tasting. Each night my wonderful wife would randomly choose a beer, pour it in the same glass and snap a picture. She then gives me the stout for tasting and scoring. I could get used to this, but she reminded me nightly not to. I then smell and taste, take notes and score the stout based on the scoring criteria created below.
Appearance 5 points
Aroma 15 points
Flavour 60 point
Mouthfeel 10 points
Impression 10 points
Total 100 points
Appearance – 5 Points – Review of beer colour and head characteristics (colour, bubble size, retention, does it linger or dissipate quickly)
Aroma – 15 Points – Review of how the stout smells. Do the malts create caramelly, toasted, roasted or even burnt aromas? Do you smell fruits, spices or coffee?
Flavour – 60 Points – What do you taste on the sip, mid sip, finish and aftertaste? Is the beer balanced? Do malts or hops prevail?
Mouthfeel – 10 points - Assess the beer’s body, is it thin, watery, medium or full? How is the carbonation level, alcoholic warmth or any other sensations?
Impression - 10 Points - Would you buy this beer again? How far out of your way would you go to have again? Is it a good value?
Just get to the results already! I'm thirsty!
5th Place: Anderson Ales Stout (6.2% abv)
The most coffee forward stout of the line up. Peppery black coffee aromas with big dark roast coffee and bittersweet chocolate flavours on the sip. Smooth bitterness throughout with a dry pepper finish. I've had this on nitro at the brewery at its phenomenal. Read our Anderson Ales brewery experience blog post HERE.
4th Place: Nickelbrook Cheeky Bastard Stout (4.5% abv)
At 4.5% abv and $3 a can, this stout is not only full of flavour but also a great value. Aromas of dark chocolate and packed brown sugar lead to tastes of bittersweet chocolate, cherry and some light cola flavours. A lighter yet extremely flavourful stout that should appeal to everyone.
Third Place: Rusty Wrench Crappy Tire Stout (7.1% abv)
This stout made in Strathroy is full bodied yet super smooth at 7.1%. Milk chocolate and roasted coffee nose. On the sip you immediately get rich chocolate notes leading to a nice coffee flavour with touches of black licorice and black cherry sweetness. This is the only stout my wife has ever drank a full glass of. Read our Rusty Wrench Brewing Co. experience blog post HERE.
2nd Place: Clifford Porter (5.9%)
Aromas of deep roasted malts and coffee. Its bright on the sip and more hop forward then the rest of the lineup. Flavours of light roast coffee, cocoa and bittersweet chocolate. A beautifully balanced stout that is dark and roasty yet full of hop flavour.
And the winner is…..
1st Place: Fixed Gear Red Hook Stout (5.5% abv)
Aromas of chocolatey malt and cinnamon. Loads of chocolate with notes of dark roast coffee. Super smooth and well balanced with low bitterness and just the right amount of sweetness. Read our Fixed Gear Brewery experience blog post HERE.
What we have here is a list of 25 stouts and porters in order of my favourite to least favourite. All the beers were well made and I would happily enjoy any of them again. But I would likely only purchase those stouts with an impression score of 8 or higher. You could taste these beers and your list could be in the complete reverse order, it’s all personal taste. My ideal stout is robust with a bit of warming from higher abv. It would have a thick lingering head, and a full body mouthfeel. I prefer the taste to be more sweet then dry with roasted coffee flavours and some underlying bittersweet chocolate. Let’s be honest, I took the scoring thing a bit too far.
This was a tongue-in-cheek application of the scientific method for finding an excuse to drink a beer every night. It was also a great way for us to wind down the days until Christmas. Until now my wife never enjoyed stouts; I used to find great fulfilment in having my her taste them just to see the look on her face, like feeding brussel sprouts to a toddler. Her tasting notes included classics like "is someone burning tires?" "cold gas station coffee" and even "did someone use this as an ashtray?" But throughout this process she has found some stouts she really enjoys. It's a Christmas miracle!
However you celebrate this holiday season, do so with a well made stout in hand. Stay positive and drink good beer.