I’ve been thinking a lot about stouts these days.
It’s probably the time of year. St. Patrick’s Day is this week, and while that means green beer for a lot of people, I’ve never been much for dressing up a dull domestic with food coloring and calling it Irish.
So when I want to celebrate my roots this time of year, I usually tip back a nice, frothy pint of Guinness. It’s the standard, right? On tap at most decent bars and even if the canned and bottled stuff lacks the appeal of watching that cascading head on a fresh pour, you can and should have a glass or two of the stuff to pay tribute to St. Pat.
But what if you’re looking for an alternative?
As it happens, good stouts abound in local bars and grocery store shelves in the north country, and I wanted to get into a few of my recent favorites.
And it depends on what you’re into.
If you want to stick with Irish dry stouts, there’s a pretty good one about a block from my office in Stag and Stars (4.7 percent ABV, 41 IBU) at Boots Brewing Company on Public Square in Watertown. It’s a really good Irish, nice and kind of creamy and mellow. A good local analog to the old world stuff.
But stouts are pretty varied, man, and there are some pretty good ones around.
You can go with an American stout, which often have notes of coffee and kind of a hoppy citrus to them. A pretty great local example is Sackets Harbor Brewing Company’s St. Stephen’s Stout (5.6 percent ABV, 60 IBU). For a beer named after a martyr who was stoned to death, this thing is pretty cheerful. Kind of light for a stout, with notes of coffee and a nice, dry finish, it’s pretty damn drinkable and it’s a good reminder that I haven’t been out to Sackets in a bit.
Other American Stouts I’ve dug include The Commodore (6.5 percent, 60 IBU), from Ballast Point Brewing Company in San Diego. This is a little stronger and, if you can find it (I found this at Bear World on Route 11 a while back), it’s worth the effort to hunt it down. If you’re way downstate and closer to Blairstown, N.J., another one I loved was Buck Hill Brewery’s nice, creamy Saddle Sore Stout (5.8 percent ABV) … OK, I didn’t name it.
You can also go a little bit sweeter and burlier and go with a milk stout.
Stone Brewing in Escondido, Calif., is probably my go-to with a really great Coffee Milk Stout (5 percent ABV, 40 IBU). But there are some terrific examples to the north in the White Cap Milk Stout (4.6 ABV) at Wood Boat Brewing in Clayton and Riverhead Brewing Company, a microbrewery in Kingston, Ontario, has a Milk Stout a little stronger than both at 5.2 percent and a little hoppier than the White Cap.
But if you’re like me, you’re throwing down your hat and asking where the hard stuff is.
Imperial stouts, which began in English breweries as strong, hearty beer they could export to the Baltic states, are where it’s at, honestly. You get all that burly, roasty, malty goodness with a good, boozy punch in the gut.
There are actually a couple of really good locals. Boots has its Dark & Gloomy (9 percent ABV, 42 IBU), which was a big favorite of mine on a recent visit, and while my favorite brews at Raquette River Brewing in Tupper Lake were of the wheat variety, they have a really good extra stout (6.3 percent, 38 IBU) that’s a little more chill than the Dark & Gloomy. At only 6.3 percent, you can probably drink a few of these, responsibly, and feel pretty safe behind the wheel.
But if you don’t have any particular place to be, I found a terrific imperial by accident a few weeks back.
Christina and I had packed up the kids and some belated Christmas presents, seeing a window where neither the weekend weather nor the kids’ upper respiratory systems were in peril, and we headed down to see some family in Pennsylvania and stay with our friends Rob and Julie at their house in Hackettstown, N.J.
As it happens, Rob and Julie keep a pretty well-stocked beer fridge downstairs, and usually after the kids are asleep, we’ll put back a beer or two and play cards or something.
Well I’d had a couple of beers and had tilted back a glass of Jameson with Rob to mourn the Rangers’ trade of fan favorite and erstwhile hobbitt, Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars, and I was feeling pretty good. The kids were asleep, and it was my turn to get up with the kids in the morning, but I was mixing up my drinks with a glass of water here and there and felt like I was too sober for a Saturday night out of town.
So I went fishing for something exotic in the beer fridge and came up with this weird little black can with a crooked, green smiley face. I’d never heard of the brewery and had never heard of the beer.
But ... it was 11 percent alcohol.
So I cracked open the Aon Pecan Mud Cake (11 percent ABV, 60 IBU) by Omnipollo, a Swedish contract brewer and self-described (via their website) “creative camp that expresses itself through beer.”
So that could be accused of being a bit pretentious, but so could I. And, man, this was one hell of a beer. Strong tastes of coffee and chocolate with that subtle pecan that really made this something special. It was kind of heavy (definitely not going to want to drink too many of these on a full stomach) and strong enough to kill the pain of Zuccarello’s departure and my impending early morning of dirty diapers and fights over Transformers.
Needless to say, I absolutely loved it. Maybe the best new beer that I’ve tried this year.
I asked Rob where he bought it, and, of course, he didn’t buy. It was a gift from a friend. Well that’s not great, because it was the only one in the fridge and there I was, and here I still am, jonesing for another fix.
So I did a little investigating, and it turns out that Mud Cake was brewed for Omnipollo at the Dorchester Brewing Co. in Boston. So ... great. It’s in the U.S. I don’t have to go to Sweden to get the good stuff.
But Boston is still a bit of a hike with two small kids, and I don’t know if it’s the healthiest place for a Yankees fan to travel, psychologically, just a few months after a Red Sox championship.
So I decided to search for it on Beermenus.com to see if any nearby bars or restaurants have it on tap.
According to Beermenus, the closest is the Thirsty Pug, a tap room and bottle shop in Auburn and, hey, that’s not all that far.
I’m not saying you should get into your car and drive almost an hour and a half away just to buy some Swedish stout to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I’m just saying that I’ll see you there.