A Tale Of Two Stouts

You know how on your favorite album, there’s that one song that you never really appreciated until the 1,057th time you heard it? It was sandwiched between two gems and always got lost in the shuffle, until that one time you heard it and realized it might be the most intricate and accomplished track on the album? That’s how I feel about stout beers. When I was first getting into craft beer, I didn’t neglect stouts, but I didn’t appreciate them to the same extent as I did heady IPAs or smooth brown ales.

That all changed a year ago at a beer festival in Middlebury, Vermont, when I first tasted the Chocolate Stout from Northshire Brewery, a small-scale brewing operation in Bennington, Vermont. The sample opened on my palette like a candy bar, and left a smoky aftertaste that lingered stubbornly a half dozen samples down the line. As we stumbled home joyously from a long day of beer sampling, it was the Chocolate Stout that lingered on my mind.

Since then, I have made a point to sample (and appreciate) a wide variety of stout beers, and they have become a steady favorite of mine. A good stout can warm you on a cold day, fill you up when your stomach rumbles, and pairs well with chili cheese fries after a day on the slopes. In honor of the newfound chill in the air, I went to my local beer supply store, picked out a couple fine-looking stouts that I had never tried, and put them to the test.

Moo Thunder Stout

First impressions: It’s hard for me to convey just how much I love this can. The solid color design and old-timey lettering make me feel like I’m drinking a beer in a bunker 10 years after the collapse of human civilization. The cow and lightning bolt design fit the name perfectly, and are so borderline brilliant that I wonder if the geniuses behind the Butternuts Beer and Ale thought of the Moo Thunder logo first, then decided to open a brewery to make it happen. This past year has seen my bias against canned beer slowly fade, as more and more craft beers have made the jump to aluminum, so I am eager to try my first stout from a can.

Taste: The first word that pops to my mind upon sampling Moo Thunder is “creamy.” I wonder immediately if this brew is supplemented by one or more forms of dairy. Moo Thunder is so smooth that at first I wonder whether it has been brewed on nitro, like a Guinness draught, but the carbonation is there under its disappointingly thin head. Moo Thunder is not a standout stout, but it is eminently satisfying — rich and full-bodied, with a light-colored head that belies its roasty aroma. I can’t decide whether Moo Thunder has a “smooth crispness” or a “crisp smoothness” about it, but either way I’m looking forward to my next can.

Grade: This isn’t going to ignite anyone’s latent passion for stout brews, but if you bring a six-pack of Moo Thunder to a party you are guaranteed to make some friends. When the can itself is a talking point, the brew gets some leeway. Factoring in presentation and taste, Moo Thunder gets a solid B.

St. Ambroise Biere Noire a l’Avoine (Oatmeal Stout)

First impressions: Montreal has given so much to me in my short life — countless school field trips to the Biodome and Insectarium, cheap and crowdless Montreal Expos baseball games, debaucherous trips with college roommates, etc. — that I feel somewhat obligated to sample their beers given the chance. McAuslan Brewing does not pardon its French on the bottle, resulting in me learning two new French words: l’avoine (oatmeal) and brasserie (brewery). Thanks, McAuslan! My hopes are high for their St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, in large part because in my mind, Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout is the standard bearer for dark beer, and to use Wire terms, if you come at the king, you best not miss.

Taste: Before I get to the taste, I want to note that this is one of the darkest stouts I’ve ever seen — about as close to black as it could possibly be. The head is nothing to write home about, but is significantly more satisfying than the quickly dissipating head on Moo Thunder. St. Ambroise is not as strong as I expected, given that its bottles are only 11.5 oz (in retrospect, that’s probably just some weird Canadian thing). Still, it has a vaguely malty taste and a distinctly crisp mouth-feel, and I can already tell that drinking this beer is going to be an interesting journey. There is a definite mocha vibe in the initial taste, but the aftertaste is where St. Ambroise soars, as the coffee lingers more than the chocolate. The aftertaste is so robust that I feel I could spend an hour drinking a single bottle of this oatmeal stout.

Grade: I love the dark pour, but the light head immediately marked St. Ambroise as inferior to my personal King of Stouts, Wolaver’s Oatmeal. However, it delivered an eminently enjoyable drinking experience, with a crisp complexity that any true stout lover will appreciate. Overall, St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout gets an A-.

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