Five Beers You Should be Drinking this International Stout Day

Shrouded in myth and legend, the origins of stout and porter-style beers are difficult to pinpoint. Legend has it that stouts were born as porters in 18th century London, where the working class preferred a stronger, more robust beer to satisfy both hunger and thirst. To meet this demand, publicans and brewers blended existing beers (such as strong ale, soured beer, milds, bitters, and/or a blend of inexpensive and more expensive beers) into a formula that pleased these working men and called it “porter” after the occupation of many of its drinkers.

In the 1720s, or so goes the story, an enterprising brewer called Ralph Harwood took these various blended beers and formulated a similar tasting single beer and began distributing it around London pubs.

This new porter would not have been recognizable to drinkers of the modern version. For starters, it would have lacked the characteristic opaque black color and slight astringent bitterness of today’s porters/stouts. Its color would have ranged from a pale golden yellow to a slightly dark brown, and its flavor range from a full-bodied ESB to a dark malty strong ale. The modern version, colored and flavor enhanced by black patent and chocolate malts, both of which are roasted until nearly burnt, wasn’t even invented or manufactured until the 19th Century. So until the mid-19th Century, the modern porter/stout didn’t even exist.

Porter, not stout, was most commonly used until the early 20th Century to describe this beer. After the invention of black malts, “stout” was added to the label of porters brewed with the black malts and higher alcohol. These stronger versions became known as stout porters. Later the two names were separated and used largely as a marketing gimmick and as a means to avoid complicated alcohol taxation schemes in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Today. stouts and porters are separated into their own categories for competition and marketability. The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), the group responsible for testing and certifying beer judges, define six varieties of stouts (dry, sweet, oatmeal, foreign extra and Russian imperial) and three versions of porter (brown, robust and Baltic)

So what’s the difference between a stout and a porter? To be honest, the differences are negligible, owing primarily to different strengths, grain bills and hops schedules. For all intents, porters are stouts and stouts are porters. In fact, the designation is often left up to the brewer to decide.

Here are my five favorites: 

Beachwood Brewing and BBQ "Udder Love:" A wonderfully rich milk stout and winner of the 2012 GABF Gold Medal/2013 Silver Medal in the Sweet Stout category, Udder Love is solid English style stout. The grain bill features Maris Otter, roasted malt and a bit of chocolate malt lending this beer a terrific biscuity and toasty flavor accented by a bit of burnt bitterness. The acidic bitterness is followed by a pleasant English hop finish, balanced with the sweetness of milk sugar. When served on nitro there is no better sweet stout. 

Firestone Walker "Velvet Merkin:"  My favorite barrel aged stout (for me it's even better than the vaunted Founder's KBS), Merkin is a smooth Oatmeal Stout aged in bourbon barrels to create a decadent, but not over the top, beer that features chocolate, coffee and vanilla on the nose and palate. It has lower alcohol than most barrel aged stouts, clocking in at 8.5% makes it more drinkable and tones down the bourbon notes that tend to over power other barrel aged stouts. 

North Coast Brewing "Old Rasputin:" The last time I drank this I wrote in my notes "simply delicious," and that still holds. Old Rasputin is my standard bearer Russian Imperial Stout and I've yet to find any better. 

Smog City "Groundworks Coffee Porter:" Smog City offers this beer year round and right now it's my favorite coffee porter/stout. It's a malty porter with a lot of coffee both on the nose and palate and it finishes with an acidic roasted malt bitterness and little bit of hops. The coffee flavors sticks with you.  

Bell's "Special Double Cream Stout:"  Another smooth and creamy stout, that I've only had once, but the memories have stayed with me. This one has a depth of flavor that's surprising for 6% abv stout.  Chocolaty, roasty and espresso like flavors dominate but are balanced with acidic bitterness from the burnt malts. Delicious. 

Speigelau IPA Beer Glasses

In the past few years, craft beer drinkers have been invited to engage in all matter of beer-related products, from craft beer magazines, industry newspapers, and custom kegerators, to specialty books, social networks like Untapped, and tasting guides and charts, all of which are supposed to enhance our beer knowledge and drinking experience. In fact, one can argue that in certain circles beer knowledge or, dare I say, connoisseurship, or perhaps beer geekery is at an all-time high. Just visit any good beer bar, brewery tasting room or decent bottle shop and you'll see beer drinkers taking notes, and and hear them gushing over their favorite beers, offering advice to complete strangers and sharing their love of suds with anyone who'll listen. Yet, when I look at the thousands of photos that are posted online of people enjoying really fantastic and interesting beers, most of them are still drinking from straight-sided shaker pints or frosty cold mugs.

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That inattention to glassware is a shame, because those of us who drink good beer know that glassware matters. That's why in Germany and Belgium many breweries create their own glassware specifically designed for their beers (yes, the glasses are also effective marketing tools). Gone are the days of tankards, steins and mugs (although mugs still have their place). The benefits of flutes (either a beer flute, or champagne flute), goblets, tulip glasses, nonic pints (think Guinness or English bitters), pilsner glasses,  snifters, wiezen glasses and even red wine glasses (Riedel Stemless Cabernet glasses are my favorite) are all well known amongst craft beer drinkers. The use of these glasses in conjunction with the right beer style enhances the drinking experience by highlighting the distinct characteristics of each style. For a really succinct breakdown of glassware and beer styles visit Beer Advocate's Glassware Guide.

Earlier this year, however, a new glass was added to the craft beer drinker's glassware stable, the Spiegelau IPA glass. These glasses, designed with the help of Ken Grossman founder of Sierra Nevada, and Sam Calagione President of Dog Fish Head are intended to enhance the flavor, aroma, and drinking pleasure of every American hop heads favorite beer, the American IPA. In a video that Spiegelau produced, both Grossman and Calagione extoll the virtues in effervescent praise of their new glass.

Being a sucker for a good marketing video and convinced that their enthusiasm was genuine (but always remaining cynical and skeptical), I decided to take the plunge. According to the site, the 19 oz. glasses are "designed to showcase the complex and alluring aromatic profiles of American 'hop-forward' IPA beers, preserve a frothy head, enhance taste and mouthfeel, and present a comfortably wide opening for the drinker to savor each beer." The bottom of the glass feels and looks like a handle, supposedly offering points of "nucleation" and "friction" where the beer passes over the ridges and "breaking out more aromatics" to give the drinker more aromas and thus better flavor. 

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Taking one for the team, the JustAnotherBeerBlog.com crew (me and friend) sat down to test these claims. Pouring Manzanita Brewing's "IPA," into a Spiegelau glass, a Riedel Stemless wine glass, a shaker pint glass, and a tulip glass, we started our "highly scientific" tests. First, was the "nose" test, trying to determine which of the glasses served up the best aroma. In the pint glass, the hop and grain aromas were present but not as concentrated as in the wine and tulip glasses; the bowl allows the drinker to get his/her nose into the glass, concentrating the aromas in a way that makes them fully present and quite pleasant. The IPA glass compared favorably to the tulip and wine glasses, offering a noticeably more intense aroma than the traditional pint glass.

Next, the all-important taste test. The wine and tulip glasses offered up a familiar flavor profile, both the malt and hops shined through. Perhaps the added flavor perception is owed to the shape of the glasses, which provide a bit more aroma and thus the illusion of more flavor.  In comparison the IPA served in the pint glass came across a touch less interesting but I may be nitpicking here trying to find difference. Again, the IPA glass was equal to the other wide-bowled glasses, offering up the impression of more and interesting flavors. The "handle," while I'm not convinced it "opened" the beer or provided any better flavor than that of the other glasses, did provide a pleasant tactile feel for those of us that fidget with glasses as we drink.

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Overall, the IPA glasses are interesting and their unique shape will definitely be a conversation starter, but to be totally honest, I'm not sure they offer the benefit that Spiegelau, Grossman and Calagione claim. Am I happy with my purchase? Absolutely. Would I be just as happy drinking from the Reidel or tulip glass? Yep. Are the IPA glasses worth the money (at around $20 for two? Sure, if you're looking for an interesting and playful glass, these fit the bill; they had the benefits of wide-bowled, thin-rimmed glasses in a unique shape that I found particularly pleasing. 

IPA Glass

IPA Glass

5 LA Beers you're not drinking but should be

Los Angeles is finally coming out of the craft beer shadows, and its brewers are now producing creative world-class beers that stand on their own, competing not only with the best in California, but with the best in the U.S. Here I offer my top 5 LA beers that deserve your attention.  

1. Monkish Brewing Co. Rosa's Hips Henry and Adrianna produce some of the most creative beers in LA County and Rosa's Hips doesn't disappoint. Rosa's Hips is dry belgian brown flavored, as the name suggests, with rose hips that offer an interesting, but not overpowering tangy spicy flavor that greets the front end of your palate in a welcome embrace. As the beer lingers the spicy tang, gives way to more traditional belgian brown flavors. Dark caramel, vanilla and toffee play across one's tongue at mid palate and the finish is a delicious lingering dried plum flavor. A really wonderful beer.  

2.  Smog City Brewing Co. Quercus Circus. This has been one of my favorite sours since I first tasted it at last year's OC Brew Ha Ha. A light bodied, dry and sour blond. The front of the palate is all sour and tang with just enough funk to keep things interesting. By mid palate the beer sweetens a bit offering up malty notes that are quite pleasant. The beer finishes with a subtle acidity and bitterness that lingers pleasingly. 

3. Golden Road Brewing's Wolf Among Weeds.  This traditional IPA competes with any being brewed in California. An incredibly well balanced and aromatic IPA, Wolf Among Weeds hits first with citrusy hop aroma and bitterness that gives way to more mellow and nuanced carmel maltiness and finishes with a fantastic bitterness. Simply delicious. 

4. Brouwerij West My First Rodeo.  From one of the quieter brewers in LA County who don't  get enough attention. My First Rodeo is a interesting, fruity and funky Belgian blond fermented with 100% Brettanomyces, the yeast most brewers try to keep from inoculating their beers. The beer starts funky and sour, but by mid palate a bit of malt and grain come through to balance the funk and give your palate a break. Just when you think it's going to get boring a nice spiciness emerges from the German noble hops that offer a lovely finish.  
  
5. Beachwood BBQ and Brewing Long Beach Oatmonster. Finally someone is doing a traditional British oatmeal stout. Oatmonster is an easy drinking (5.5% abv 28 IBU) full bodied stout. Bitter from the chocolate and roasted malts, that give way to the malty sweetness and full bodied mouth feel of a traditional stout. This beer doesn't challenge it just pleases. 

I could have easily made this list much longer, but  I think these are some of the most interesting beers in LA right now. Have a favorite of your own? Think I left somebody out?  Leave your top 5 in the comments section. 

 

Golden Road Brewing "Heal the Bay IPA"

Golden Road Brewing "Heal the Bay IPA." 

Golden Road Brewing "Heal the Bay IPA." 

As promised, I celebrated IPA Day with Golden Road Brewing's "Heal the Bay IPA." While not a fan of the cutesy rhyming that Golden Road employs in naming their IPAs (Point the Way IPA, Heal the Bay IPA, all brewed in LA, you get the idea), I have become quite enamored with their beer and Heal the Bay doesn't disappoint. Heal the Bay is a light-colored, near golden IPA with a hop forward nose and pleasant up front bitterness. There is just enough malt to balance the hops without being too sweet. Citrus hop flavors dominate throughout, leaving a enjoyable grapefruit/lemon after taste. Overall, a perfect beer for summer in LA. Plus, the more you drink the more you help the environment; a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this IPA supports Heal the Bay, an important and worthy organization who care for California's beaches, rivers and waterways.    

Beachwood BBQ: Hop Vader

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Settling into our table at my favorite local Brewery, Beachwood BBQ in Long Beach, I was pleasantly surprised to see Hop Vader back on the tap list. This was my go to beer last July, when it was introduced during Beachwood's first anniversary and for me it was love at first sip.

A black IPA, Hop Vader features a huge hop bill including a heavy dose of dry hopping with Columbus and Simcoes giving the beer a fantastic hoppy nose, which is followed by a huge hit of Pacific Northwest aroma/bittering hops that lend a wonderful citrusy/piney note on the front of the palate that fades into a fantastic hop bitterness throughout the finish. All of these hops are balanced by a dark almost black beer with both a malty sweetness and roasted malt astringency that compliments the hop bill. Overall another fantastic beer from Julian Shrago and the team at Beachwood that holds up well against the growing list of Dark IPAs.