Dark, silky stouts seem just right for chilly fall days and frigid winter nights. But this season, we're finding new reasons to sip these robust suds in the sunshine. What gives?
For one, stouts are better suited than many light-colored beers for pairing with summery foods like charred vegetables and barbecued meats. Think about it: Their earthy flavors and rich, toasted aromas mimic the ones already billowing out from your backyard grill. And stouts actually benefit from the weather—as the beers warm, their complex, smoky undertones begin to unfurl.
The key to a good summer stout is finding ones that are low in alcohol, dry tasting and snappy on the finish. Here are five of our favorite full-bodied but easy-drinking stouts for your next cookout, picnic or barbecue.
Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout
Eastern North Carolina, where summer temperatures commonly reach triple digits, may be an unlikely place for a craft brewery specializing in dark beers. But stouts, rich porters and black ales are exactly what owner and brewer Paul Philippon does best. Philippon's best selling beer—"year-round, even during the summer months"—is the frothy Milk Stout. Its smoky acidity and rich roastiness are balanced by sweet milk sugar for a full-bodied, bittersweet chocolate-like finish. ($10 for a six-pack)
Modern Times Black House Stout
To make the oatmeal stout, San Diego newcomers Modern Times go the extra mile: Rather than outsourcing coffee from a supplier, the brewers roast their own beans, a blend of Sumatran and Ethiopian. The coffee creates a mosaic of chocolate, ripe fruit and caramel aromas, and the sweet, snappy finish makes it the closest beer to cold-brewed coffee that we've ever tasted. ($10 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans)
Maine Beer Company Mean Old Tom Stout
Maine's Mean Old Tom is a modest American stout brewed to mimic the hulking imperial stouts (those huge, dark beers with double-digit alcohol percentages and palate-wrecking flavors) that have become quite popular (and collectible) among beer geeks. But at just 6.5 percent alcohol, it's easier drinking than its imperial brethren. And after a quick aging on organic vanilla beans, it oozes Bourbon barrel-like flavors without the amped-up booziness. The addition of oatmeal creates a frothy creaminess on the palate. ($8 for a half-liter bottle)
Bell's Kalamazoo Stout
Bell's may be best known for its hoppy Two Hearted and HopSlam IPAs, but its line of stouts, including the jet-black Kalamazoo, also shines, albeit darkly. Brewed with licorice and black malts, it looks like thin blackstrap molasses in the glass and bursts with aromas of caramel, tobacco and dank smoke, making it a sure-fire pairing for grilled meats. ($10 for a six-pack)
Hopworks Urban Brewery Survival Stout
HUB brewery in Portland, Oregon, practically scours the bulk food aisles of its local food co-op, scooping seven organic grains for this brew, including amaranth, quinoa, spelt and kamut. The result is a smooth, robust stout rich in vanilla and pecan flavors that's nearly perfect on its own. But topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream, as they do at the pub, it's nearly ethereal. ($7 for a 22-ounce bottle)