Don’t be afraid of the dark 

Stouts and porters are the perfect accompaniment to the cooler winter months.

click to enlarge DARK SIDE: Sierra Nevada may be known for pale ales but don’t miss out on their stout this winter. - SIERRA NEVADA BREWING COMPANY
  • DARK SIDE: Sierra Nevada may be known for pale ales but don’t miss out on their stout this winter.

One of the great myths about beer has to do with the color and appearance of the drink.

Somewhere along the way, a dark hue became equated with higher alcohol, higher calories, and a heavier brew. Stouts and porters immediately were assumed to be stronger and crueler to the waistline, and thus shunned by many in favor of “lighter” beers.

But the truth is the color of a beer has nothing to do with those characteristics, but simply the level of roasting in the grain that was used.

In fact, according to the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines, stouts should fall in the 4-5 percent ABV range, and porters between 4-5.4 percent ABV, not taking into account Imperial and Double variations on the styles. Obviously many breweries exceed those with their beers, but the baseline is way below what most people expect.

There are those that equate the fall and winter months with being “stout drinking weather”. Something about the malty and roasty brews with their coffee and chocolate notes just works well as the temperature drops.

Stouts and porters run the gamut from bitter to dessert-sweet, and if you include the Imperial offerings, can climb up into the 12-13 percent ABV. There is one for every occasion. Here are some choices for this winter season.

Porters have been a part of the ‘Gansett brewing tradition since 1916 and helped the brewery survive Prohibition due to a patent by the good ol’ US Government to brew it for “medicinal purposes.” Apparently, ‘Gansett Porter was believed to be the cure for whatever ailed you, and doctors would write prescriptions for it to help patients throughout New England. I am guessing “I’m thirsty” was probably a sufficient symptom.

Narragansett’s Porter pours a dark chestnut color and it has a beautiful, thick, creamy, mocha-tinged head. The aroma is mild dark chocolate, roasted malt, and a hint of piney hops. It is rich and smooth, and there is sweetness to the flavor balanced by the hops as well. The mouthfeel is luxurious and silky, and the 7 percent ABV is well hidden.

Hoppier than most, Cigar City’ Jose Marti American Porter has become a favorite among many. Named for the Cuban national hero who lived much of his life in Tampa and was known for his writings, this beer clocks in at 8 percent ABV, and carries a rich, roasted malt flavor surrounded by chocolate, sweet fig, roasted coffee, and malted milk.

It pours a gorgeous black with a rich head that hugs the rims of the glass. Where the Jose Marti shines, though, is in the hops. Easily as much as a pale ale or even some IPAs, but the sweetness of the malts balances the hop variety perfectly. This is a must for any porter-lover, and every hop-head.

Sierra Nevada’s Stout, the granddaddy of them all knows how to make beer, no matter what style. While they are famous for their Pale Ale, every one of their beers is consistently excellent. I fell in love with their Stout years ago (their Porter is excellent, too) and would count it among the best traditional, straightforward examples of the style available. At 5.8 percent ABV, it is not overwhelming, and the richness of flavor is undeniable.

With a faint coffee and chocolate aroma, there is just the right amount of hops, too. The appearance is dark — as one might expect — with a good creamy head. The flavor is wonderful, dark roasted malt and a perfectly balanced bitterness. The palate is smooth and strong. I can’t recommend this one enough.

Magic Hat’s Heart of Darkness Stout, the new winter seasonal from the Vermont brewery, is a revival of an old recipe from years ago. Heart of Darkness pours the usual blackness of the style with a small, mocha-colored head and nice amount of carbonation.

The aroma is coffee with a hint of caramel presence. There is a beautiful taste of roasted malt that is followed by a noticeable but balanced hop presence. Mellow and delicious, and at only 5.7 percent ABV, this stout is a great companion to the cooler nights.


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