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India pale ales—you know them as IPAs—may still be the best-selling beer style, but many of us prefer the darker side of things.

Yes, stouts are perfect as the nights begin to get just a little longer; it’s a great time to enjoy oatmeal-y, chocolate-y, coffee-flavored deliciousness in a glass.

For my money, here are some of the best stouts in the world right now:

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: With more than 12,000 votes and a 4.5 rating (out of 5) on BeerAdvocate.com, this is arguably the best stout in the world. Coming in at 12.8 percent alcohol by volume, the beer offers hints of caramel, bourbon and dried fruit on the nose. This is a full-bodied, smooth stout with flavors of vanilla, oak and yet more bourbon. It’s the epitome of the imperial stout style—a beautifully crafted beer.

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout: Of the most widely known stouts in America, “KBS” is also one of the best, with a 100 BeerAdvocate.com score. This world-class imperial stout is brewed with a hint of coffee and vanilla, then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year. KBS shines with bold flavors throughout—and the flavors ramp up a couple of notches as the beer warms. 

“You put the right beer in the right barrel, and you’re going to create some pretty interesting flavors,” says Founders brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki, according to the Founders website.

Firestone Walker Parabola: This barrel-aged beast also has a world-class 100 score from BeerAdvocate.com, and is also aged for a full year in bourbon barrels. With this 14 percent ABV Russian imperial stout, prepare for flavors of sweet, dark berries; oak-y cask vanilla; and malt complexity. The licorice and molasses notes help create a perfectly balanced and amazingly flavorful stout. This is a fantastic nightcap!

While we’re talking about stouts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to mark your calendars for Nov. 2, when stout-lovers across the world will celebrate the delicious, dark beer on the Seventh Annual International Stout Day. Full disclosure: I created the day!

Here are a few of my favorite places to enjoy stouts, as well as a few of my favorite stouts to enjoy, in and around the Coachella Valley:

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. (30640 Gunther St., Thousand Palms) will be celebrating Stout Day with a newly released stout; the details will be announced soon.

La Quinta Brewing Co.’s Koffi Porter is a 6.3 percent ABV beer brewed with dark-roasted, chocolate and crystal malts. After fermentation, brewmasters add coffee beans from Rancho Mirage’s Koffi. This renowned beer has taken home the bronze in both the 2014 World Beer Championships and the 2016 Los Angeles International Beer Competition. It will be on tap at both locations (77917 Wildcat Drive, Palm Desert; and 78065 Main St., No.100, La Quinta) for Stout Day.

King Harbor Brewing Summer Stout: Redondo Beach’s King Harbor is known for its Swirly stout, and the brewery occasionally releases an imperial stout in the winter, but this year, Tom Dunbabin and his brewing team decided they wanted to develop a Summer Stout—with a chocolate and roasted-malt profile, a subtle refreshing character, a lower alcohol by volume and a clean finish. Expect to see this beer and other King Harbor brews around the Coachella Valley this fall and winter—and if you’re feeling like a road trip, King Harbor will be hosting a Stout Day event at the brewery on Nov. 2.

The Beer Hunter (78483 Highway 111, La Quinta) is not to be confused with the beer writer named Michael Jackson, who used the moniker The Beer Hunter, and was the best beer writer the world has known; he passed away in 2007. I am talking about the sports bar in La Quinta that is stepping up its game with new and bigger selections, as well as its own white-label beers that are brewed locally. Stop in on Nov. 2 to celebrate Stout Day!

Want to stay in to celebrate stouts? I have found the selections of craft beer at Total Wine and More, Whole Foods, Jensen’s Foods and Bristol Farms to all be fantastic. Pour your own stout flights, and have guests pick their favorites!

International Stout Day gives stouts their day in the spotlight, which they so rightly deserve. On Nov. 2, be sure to login and rate your stouts, and check in where you’re celebrating, on Untappd! Every year, the app offers up special badges for celebrating the holiday.

Enjoy!

Published in Beer

Someone once said that “history flows forward on rivers of beer.” It’s true: Beer has played a significant role in shaping the human experience.

This brings us to Nov. 3, when stout-lovers across the world celebrated the delicious, dark beer during the Sixth Annual International Stout Day. Hundreds of craft breweries and pubs hosted Stout Day events—and I was fortunate enough to be invited to fly to the Emerald Isle for events at that most famous and historic of all breweries, Guinness.

Arthur Guinness started brewing ales in 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. On Dec. 31, 1759, he signed a 9,000-year lease at 45 pounds per year—quite possibly the smartest investment in history.

I was thrilled that the good folks at Guinness officially celebrated International Stout Day. Created by yours truly in 2011, the day symbolizes everything that is good about this iconic beer style, and the collaborative community that enjoys it. After Guinness invited me to the brewery, I felt like Charlie in Willy Wonka at times.

There has been an experimental brewery at St. James’s Gate for more than 100 years, but it is newly open to the public: In November 2015, The Open Gate Brewery opened with the intent of allowing people to sample new beers by Guinness brewers, who are given free rein to experiment and explore new beers.

At Open Gate, these brewers oversee all Guinness beer innovation globally—which is a tremendous responsibility, since Guinness is sold in more than 150 countries around the world. The brew system is manual, so they are able to replicate any of the beers at any Guinness brewery. It’s the size of a typical craft brewery—just inside the massive Guinness walls. It’s the perfect place to taste the wider variety of Guinness’ drink portfolio.

Head brewer Peter Simpson gave me a private tour before the celebration. These lucky brewers have everything a brewer could want—in order to brew just about anything they want. They have a mini-roaster, in order to experiment with different grains. Hearty English hops, like Northern Brewer, grow outside in the hops garden. And Guinness’ “Super Yeast” is used to brew all of the company’s styles of beer.

“Every new Guinness launch from now on will start in here—and will be on the tap here first,” Simpson said. “At the moment, we’re doing two new beers every month.”

The brewery made history again that very evening: On Stout Day, Guinness invited other breweries to the event. Ireland, like the United States, is experiencing its own craft-beer resurgence and revolution—and I was told this was the first time that brewers from Irish craft breweries were invited to enjoy pints together at an event held by Guinness, on Guinness property.

Joining Guinness at the Open Gate Brewery that evening were representatives of Kellys, 5 Lamps, Porterhouse Brewing Co., Dungarvan Brewing Co. and London’s 40ft Brewery.

Liam LaHart, the founder and brewer of Porterhouse, leaned into me after the event and whispered, “Erin, you realize this is unprecedented, right?”

I got goose bumps.

Each craft brewery brought two to four stouts beers each. Guinness offered a delicious list of varietals: Apple Stout at 6.2 percent alcohol by volume, Sea Salt and Burnt Sugar Stout at 6.3 percent ABV, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout at 7.5 percent ABV, Weisen Stout at 7.2 percent ABV, Antwerpen Export Stout at 8 percent ABV, Nitro Double Coffee Stout at 5.5 percent ABV, and Guinness Draught at 4.2 percent ABV. The eighth tap featured 40ft Brewery—the first-ever guest tap.

The brewers from 40ft had to board a ship and a train to bring their 40ft Deep stout over to Dublin for the event. It was a brilliant 5 percent ABV stout, with notes of coffee, dark chocolate and licorice. It’s hopped with Target (UK) and Bravo (U.S.), adding a touch of orange and spice to the aroma.

Guinness’ new Sea Salt and Burnt Sugar Stout was especially tasty. It offered a pleasing clash of flavors.

Simpson explained: “It’s very difficult to get the balance of salt and sugar right. The saltiness and the sweetness carry each other a lot better with the bitterness of a stout than they would in a lighter ale or beer. The Admiral hops give you a nice background bitterness with a slight green note. … You’re hit initially with a little bit of roast barley and sweetness from our burnt sugar, then leading into subtle saltiness and ending with a pleasant bitterness.”

Porterhouse brought four stouts, including the only oyster stout brewed in Ireland.

Simpson was grinning from ear to ear as he showed me Guinness’ barrel-aging stouts: Antwerpen Export Stout and West Indies Porter, both in rye bourbon barrels.

“Best job in the world,” Simpson said. “And the best part is seeing people enjoy it.”

Simpson and the other Open Gate brewers recently brewed a Kettle Sour—the first time Guinness has ever brewed a Sour style.

The beer app Untappd awarded a Stout Day badge for anyone logging in a stout beer on Nov. 3. In the U.S., there were 377,718 total check-ins. In the Netherlands, Stout Day saw 16,539 check-ins, and in the United Kingdom, there were 16,582, numbers followed by Canada, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Germany, Australia and Finland.

The top-logged beers via Untappd were Guinness Draught, Stone Xocoveza (2016), Founders Breakfast Stout, and Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro. The top cities on Stout Day were Chicago, New York City, London, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Washington, Denver and Austin.

International Stout Day brings stout-beer lovers around the world together and gives the variety of beer a day in the spotlight—which it so rightly deserves.

Start planning for next year at www.StoutDay.com.

Published in Beer

Stout beers offer a soft, almost chewy richness—unlike any lager.

The sharp and roasted yet creamy flavor is delicious any time of the year—but these beers are especially lovely when the temperatures start to drop. These darker beers pack a cornucopia of flavors, with plenty of alcohol by volume to keep you warm and toasty.

It’s time to celebrate these beers: The Fifth Annual International Stout Day (an event I helped create) will be celebrated around the world on Thursday, Nov. 5.

International Stout Day has become a day of delicious celebration, a time when we salute this rich and complex style—and the brewers who craft it.

On this fine, roasted-malt-infused day, I recommend checking out some of these delicious beers:

Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout: Sharp coffee flavors and full-bodied hop bitterness are prominent, while the beer provides the warmth that’s common among great stouts. Espresso and dark chocolate notes lead the way. Noticeable in the background are touches of molasses and sweet milk chocolate. This is an incredibly well-crafted and well-balanced beer.

Surly Brewing Darkness: The massive Russian Imperial Stout uses Belgian dark and candi sugar, and features a different artist on the label every year. This year’s artwork is a nightmare bat. The world-class 10.3 percent alcohol-by-volume stout is now aged in whiskey barrels and offers an incredibly silky mouth-feel. There’s a ton of tart cherry, brown sugar, dark chocolate, molasses and date—offering the perfect level of complexity. The beer even has a day dedicated to it, when dark-beer lovers descended upon the gates of Surly in late October.

Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout: This beer can be enjoyed any time of the year—but it’s especially fantastic during the winter months. The 9.5 percent ABV beer has a massive caramel and burnt-coffee malt backbone, with hints of dark fruit. The flavors layer beautifully and lend to a rich and creamy mouth-feel.

Alaskan Smoked Porter: Coming in with a relatively low 6.5 percent ABV, this beer has some extra flavor thanks to special smoked malts. Known as “rauchbier” in Germany, smoke-flavored beer didn’t really exist in the United States until Alaskan Brewery developed it in 1988. This brew has a nice, earthy character. Smoked chocolate, dark fruit and molasses all come through in this classic porter. Keep a look out for limited vintages on Nov. 1.

Anderson Valley Barley Flats Oatmeal Stout: Oatmeal is added to this brew for a silky smoothness—and a touch of sweetness. It’s a sweet appetizer beer. The taste is simpler and more candid than the European stouts. Roasted barley, caramel malt and velvety-smooth coffee dominate while sweet oats linger on the aftertaste.

Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Imperial Stout: No actual chocolate is used in this beer—but the use of roasted malt and the process by which the grains are roasted give it similar flavors and nuances. With this decadent beer, you’ll not only pick up notes of chocolate, but coffee, vanilla, toasted bread crust, licorice and dark cherry. The mouth-feel is lovely with this indulgent 10 percent ABV beer.

AleSmith Brewing Bourbon Barrel Aged Speedway Stout: This beer is not for the faint of heart. This 12 percent ABV barrel-aged imperial stout has massive bitter chocolate and coffee aromas, with layers of raisins, bourbon and butterscotch. Sweet caramel and toffee flavors in the beginning blend seamlessly with vanilla, coconut and oak flavors. A nearby roaster delivers an extra helping of coffee for added depth and flavor.

Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin: This 2010 and 2011 Great American Beer Festival gold-medal winner starts out as the lovely 5.5 percent ABV Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout. Barrel-aging raises the ABV to 8.5 percent—and turns the beer into a decadent and incredibly drinkable stout. Dark-chocolate truffle, toffee, vanilla and coffee dominate the nose. The taste is only slightly muted, with notes of raisins, spicy oak, marshmallows and bourbon. It’s a beautifully balanced beer.

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout: The brewers’ notes indicate an intense mix of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel and smoke. The appropriately named beer won a gold medal in 2006 at the World Beer Cup Awards in the Wood and Barrel Aged beer category. Bittersweet cocoa powder, molasses, fig jam, vanilla and toasted coconut flavors create a lovely beer.

Boulevard Imperial Stout: This is a special blend of barrel-aged beers coming in at 11.8 percent ABV. Grainy toastiness, oak, coffee and spicy hops balance beautifully with date, brown sugar and plum notes. The imperial stout is a blend of fresh beer and several barrel-aged beers. Spice, chocolate and hovering alcohol warmth play a big part in this balanced beer’s charm. Serve in a tulip glass, and pair with roasted meat or smoked cheeses.

Locally, Coachella Valley Brewing Co. will have its Black Widow and Whopper stouts ready for Nov 5.

Don’t forget to check in to Untappd on Nov. 5 to grab your special edition badge. Unlock it by checking into any style stout on that day.

Raise your glass to this historic and iconic beer style—and toast the craft beer revolution. Visit stoutday.com for more information.

Published in Beer