This month, I’m reviewing stouts. Though stouts tend to have a reputation as a winter beer, a few of my favorite breweries have put out some interesting stouts for the spring. More importantly, stouts are my favorite style of beer. They are generally big and bold beers and, once you learn to love the darkness, there is no going back.
First up to the plate is the Vernal Minthe Stout brewed by Ska Brewing Company. It comes in a $10 six-pack of cans. I had to look this up, but “vernal” actually means of or relating to the spring, and Minthe is a naiad (water nymph) from Greek mythology, associated with the river Cocytus.
I digress. The Vernal Minthe Stout is a very malty beer brewed with peppermint, spearmint, cocoa, and vanilla beans. This sounds like an overload of flavors, and it is. One reason I love stouts is that the strong malty body allows for a great place to experiment with odd flavors. Unfortunately, this experiment is a bit over the top. If the spearmint or vanilla beans were left out, it could have potential.
I can hardly taste the hops or cocoa; the spearmint and peppermint really take over the beer, though the vanilla is a background note throughout. The beer finishes with a bit of hop bitterness and a syrupy mint flavor.
I don’t want to hate on this beer too much. I like to see a brewery try new things and break the mold, but this one doesn’t quite work.
Second in the line-up is the Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout brewed by Odell Brewing Company. I spoiled myself a bit with this one, as it is $10 for a four-pack. Lugene is actually the name of a Ft. Collins farmer who uses the spent grain from Odell Brewing to feed his dairy cows.
I’ll get straight to the punch line—this beer is superb. It pours dark brown with a white head that is perfect for a milk stout mustache. The beer is chocolaty without being too sweet, and it has all the smoothness and creamy body of a perfect milk stout.
I will warn fans of bold and aggressive stouts, but this beer is anything but. Instead, imagine a perfect, ‘50s diner-style chocolate milkshake and a respectable English-style porter fall in love. They marry, move to a house out in the country with a white picket fence, and they have a beautiful baby. This milk stout, dear reader, is that baby. Enjoy.
The final stout I tried is the Hibernal Vinifera Stout. This brew comes in a $10 six-pack of cans and is another in Ska Brewing’s line of Stouts whose names I am not well-read enough to understand. However, the dictionary tells me that “hibernal” means of or relating to winter and “vinifera” is a common grape vine native to the Mediterranean region.
Anyhow, the Hibernal Vinifera Stout is a foreign-style stout brewed with Malbec grape juice and aged in oak. Foreign-style stout is just a fancy way of saying that it is sweeter than a lot of stouts, and it is especially high in alcohol.
This beer pours black as night with a clingy brown head and smells like grapes, oak, and leather-bound classics. The taste is complex yet very well balanced. At first, one is confronted with the typical sweet malt body of a foreign-style stout, but then the grapes seep through, aided by a perceptible taste of alcohol. The beer finishes with a balancing hop bitterness to complement the lingering sweetness.
Ska really hit the nail on the head with this one. The grape juice was a bold strategy, but the Hibernal Vinifera Stout is delicious. This beer is a great example of how the big malt profile of a stout lets the brewer experiment with different flavors. Also, fermenting all that grape juice in addition to the malts makes this beer pack one hell of a punch.
So I say unto you, go forth and imbibe the tasty fruits of our microbreweries. Drink and be merry. Rejoice in the sublime goodness of the malts and the hops, those twin deities of taste. Finally, I wish unto thee, dear reader, a wonderful summer.