With the famously thirsty day of Irish celebration rapidly approaching, the mind naturally turns to beer. Whether you’re the type to reach for a green-stained Budweiser or recoil at the thought, this is the perfect opportunity to honor a more authentically Irish way of drinking — St. Patrick’s Day is the time to embrace the stout.
Historically, a stout was the stronger, more-alcoholic version of a porter, which itself was a dark, malty beer named for 18th century Central London river porters known for preferring this style of suds. Although stouts have their roots in these English porters, it was Arthur Guinness whose stout porters — made in Dublin to compete with English versions through savvy export strategies — turned the style into an Irish hallmark.
Now, of course, Guinness Draught is by far the world’s most famous stout. Like its cousin, the nearly identical Murphy’s Irish Stout, Guinness is an example of a dry Irish stout, a style that is actually relatively “low gravity” as far as stouts go (hovering around 4% alcohol by volume). As craft brewing continues to proliferate, however, a growing number of Southern brewers are giving beer drinkers a few more options.
From the traditional to the outlandish, these stouts taste as good as they will look paired with your slightly cocked, green bowler hat. Look for these at your local well-stocked beer store.
Highland Brewing Company
Black Mocha Stout
Asheville, North Carolina
5.0% ABV, sold in 12-oz. bottles
Asheville is now teeming with impressive craft breweries, a trend Highland Brewing Company sparked in 1994 when it became the city’s first legal brewery since Prohibition. The company’s Black Mocha Stout uses several types of malt (i.e., barley that has been made to begin germinating, then dried, to halt the process and make its starches fermentable) along with roasted barley (i.e., barley roasted to a very dark color) to create flavors reminiscent of cocoa nibs and espresso. It is rich textured and opulent, with a sense of semi-sweet melted chocolate in the finish.
Good People Brewing Company
Coffee Oatmeal Stout
5.7% ABV, sold in cans
Like Highland Brewery in Asheville, Good People Brewing was the first brewery to open in Alabama after the state passed laws permitting higher-alcohol-content beers and, later, the opening of tasting rooms. Started by then-homebrewers Michael Sellers and Jason Malone, Good People is nearing a decade of high praise from the beer community. An oatmeal stout adds oats to the mash to create smoothness and body, and in this case, according to the company, the beer is brewed with “gourmet coffee” in the mix, too. The coffee doesn’t dominate, but instead mingles with roasty malt notes, all of which is scrubbed away with a hefty dose of Willamette hops in the finish.
Terrapin Beer Company
Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout
6.0% ABV, sold in 12-oz. cans
Athens’ original craft brewery, Terrapin, continues to expand its range of brews, and the Moo-Hoo stout is a seasonal winter release that is still populating shelves. Milk stout is a particular sub-genre that makes use of lactose (a sugar that is unfermentable and therefore retains its sweetness) to add subtly sweet texture to the beer. In the case of Moo-Hoo, the brew also includes cocoa nibs from Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co. in Nashville, Tennessee. Opaque and nearly black in color, Moo-Hoo has a big, frothy texture and finishes creamy, almost dessert-like.
Southern Barrel Brewing Co
Frozen Barrel Imperial Milk Stout
Bluffton, South Carolina
10.0% ABV, sold in cans
Like Terrapin’s Moo-Hoo, Frozen Barrel Milk Stout by coastal newcomer Southern Barrel Brewing Co. adds lactose to the brew. But, in this case, the beer is more potent, reaching 10% alcohol by volume to make it an “imperial stout.” Imperial stouts have a place in history as a style the British created for export northward to Russia, specifically because Catherine the Great was a fan. The style is typically high in alcohol (usually 8-12% ABV) and endowed with a huge malty character and bitter hops. In the case of Southern Barrel’s unusual hybrid style, the beer is also aged four months in used whiskey barrels with whole vanilla bean pods, imparting a boozy sweetness. The result is a beer that is surprisingly balanced, given its alcohol content, and emits a kind of cool creaminess that tastes uncannily like a frothy milkshake blended with bourbon.