Black Friday

Rob Symes

Shaking it up with Stouts

Another Black Friday is upon us, but if you want to escape the madness of the shopping season, there may be no better way of doing so than a good beer. Whether you’re putting your feet up after a punishing retail session or simply enjoying a day without the chaos, you can get into the vibe of things by enjoying a stout – a black beer for a Black day. Like all styles, stouts are undergoing great change and innovation, and here are four trends you might want to ponder when you select your brew.

 

My Milkshake Brings all the Boys to the Yard

The first snows have fallen, but the summer of the milkshake IPA lingers on like a TV show the networks just can’t cancel, but a new season is here and it’s time to transition to stouts. Milkshake IPAs are characterized by the addition of lactose during the boil, which results in a thick body, as well as a residual sweetness that’s often amplified by other sugars or sweet flavourings. The same approach works well with stouts, and while the idea isn’t new (it’s essentially amping up the old milk stout style), it is going in directions that suggests brewers are willing to test the boundaries. Never ones to shrink from a challenge, North American breweries are pushing the envelope, resulting in off the wall flavours like Peanut Butter Shake from Whitewater Brewing and Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake Stout from Rochester Mills in Michigan.

 

Scraping the Barrel?

Believe it or not, there was a time when barrel-aged imperial stouts were a rarity. Whether tried and true bourbon or a more adventurous brandy or rum, most imperials seem to take a break in a barrel before hitting the shelves. If done right, it can result in a beer of remarkable complexity, but it’s easy to misjudge and make a boozy, barrel-heavy mess. Try and seek out a straight up imperial this Friday and if you can, do a side-by-side with the barrel version to see the beers in a new light.

 

Variations on a Style

Special beers beg for special release parties, or at the very least a specific release time at a brewery to generate buzz, and imperial stouts are the style most likely to receive the red carpet treatment. Taking a lead from the USA, Canadian breweries are increasingly modifying the base beer to provide multiple variants on release day, providing drinkers with the ideal opportunity to see how ingredient or process changes can drastically reshape one of their favourite beers. For example, at their recent Skeleton Key release, Bellwoods took a rum barrel aged imperial stout and simultaneously released a coffee-infused version, as well as one incorporating dulce de leche, scotch bonnet and lactose.

 

Novelty is Normality

 Coffee and chocolate have ruled the roost for a long time, but offbeat flavours are becoming more commonplace in stouts, and the three trends above already show that beer is rapidly diversifying and tackling ingredients that would have made our forefathers shudder. The flavoured stout still has a place outside of barrel-aging, milkshakes and additions to a hefty star release, though many of the stronger contenders rely on more traditional ingredients. This year’s Canadian Brewing Awards gold winner was Exchange brewery’s breakfast Stout, which is infused with oats and coffee, while the silver went to a vanilla stout from Lighthouse Brewing in BC. There are more obscure flavours out there worth a visit, but you can’t go wrong with the classic combos.