As we continue to look for great brews for winter, I made a long tour through my “Oxford Companion to Beer” this week to give you some good background for the three styles of beer that you’ll be reading about below.
Here’s what I learned:
• Stout is a warm fermented ale typically dark in color, running on a continuum from dark brown to black. The flavors tend toward roasted notes, the coffee and chocolate prominent. The American version tends to be a bit more hoppy, though traditional English-style stouts tend toward a more malty-type bitterness.
The term “stout” itself can be found in English literature of the 1700s and was typically used to describe high-alcohol beers of any style, though they came to be associated with heavier, darker beers. They were referred to as stout porters for a time, and then just stout.
Here’s a stout for your consideration: Belhaven Scottish Stout (7% alcohol by volume). Dark brown, not quite as opaque as the porter you’ll see in just a moment. The nose has a bit of nuttiness in it. Medium body, with a balance of components and flavors of nuttiness, hints of coffee in the background of a broad palate of caramel flavor.
• Porter, another dark beer that has been also attested in writing from the 18th century in England, was drunk by the colonists here. Porters can often have a richer flavor profile than the stouts, with the roasted notes of stout along with other kernel flavors such as caramel and nuts.
I just mentioned the Colonies: Porter was imported from England as long as things were going well. As the Anglo-American relationship started to sour, with the well-known results, American breweries sprang up and began brewing these dark beers on our own shores. Porters remained the most popular beer style in America until about the middle of the 19th century, when lagers became the rage.
In the spirit of the Colonies, here’s Founders Brewing Porter (6.5% ABV): Black beer under a dark tan, good-sized head. Rich malt and roasted notes on the nose. The palate explodes with roasted notes, all variety of kernel including coffee most prominently, notes of chocolate, roast, some nuttiness and a slight hint of smokiness along the way to the end. Good and solid for a cold winter night.
• Rauchbier is, not surprisingly, a German style noted for its smokiness (rauchen is the word for smoking), and that flavor and aroma comes from the use of smoked malt. The overall weight maybe not as heavy as a porter and it can be made in more of a lager style.
The story of the origin of rauchbier, told in the Franconia region of Germany, is that there was a fire in a medieval monastery, in which part of the monastery’s brew house was preserved, but filled with malt that had been exposed to the smoke from the fire. They brewed with it anyway, and the result became known as rauchbier.
No one seems to be quite sure about the historical accuracy of the story, but does make for great telling. More likely, malts were roasted in a kiln, given that smoky flavor that they then pass on to the beer. That’s way too prosaic for me, I much prefer smoky monasteries.
So, what to pair with a beer that tastes like smoke? The Germans recommend smoked meats, of course (think bacon or sausage) but any good heavy food would be a fit.
You could try it with Tinder Rauchbier (Uinta Brewing Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 6.5% ABV). This one comes under champagne cork, so open carefully when you take off the cage. Golden in color with hints of amber, the head is substantial, frothy bubbling and off-white with notes of smoke and peat. Smoke hints continue along to the finish, though there are hops accompanying it, the kernel flavors, smoke, and good bitterness right to the finish. Tastes about the way a brew house would right after a fire.
So, there we have a few choices for the beginnings of a cold weather. Founders was the best in show for my money, but know that I recommend each of the beers you read about here.
Rumor has it that the days will start getting longer this week, but in the meantime I shall continue searching out some good things to drink on these long cold nights.
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at email@example.com.