It's been a long, cold winter – at least as long and cold as any winter in Australia can be called while maintaining a straight face. As such, it's likely more and more of you have been looking at the darker reaches of beer lists and bottleshop fridges when making your beer selections in recent months.
So, for our latest Blind Tasting, we decided we should do the same and opted to line up stouts. It's a category that promised much. Not only are there some great stouts brewed by the country's smaller brewers but there is a handful from bigger brewers that survived the commoditisation of Australia's brewing industry in the last century too. What's more, there are some widely available classics from overseas with generations of heritage on their side.
This time around, we have no accompanying "Drinking In Style" feature on stouts to go with the results of the tasting. Our Resident Beer Scholar, Chris Brady, has been overseas on a family holiday and apparently values spending time with rarely seen relatives more highly than being poorly remunerated for his words. And, rather than put up our own attempt, we thought we'd leave that area to him as we'll no doubt revisit stouts at a future date.
For the tasting itself, it followed the format we've been using and refining over time. Half a dozen knowledgeable beer folks did the tasting. This time around it was all brewers with our usual representatives from the repping / writing / venue side of the industry all in Wellington for Beervana; the tasters ranged from junior brewers to head brewers and included a number of former and current trophy winners from both the Australian International Beer Awards and Craft Beer Awards. With our regular head steward, Prof Pilsner, working The Ekka in Queensland, we handled the serving in house.
Scoring followed the usual format. For those to whom this is a first Crafty Blind Tasting report, that means scores out of five for appearance, aroma and taste and then a ten for "overall". With these tastings conducted predominantly for the public consunption, we like to run them a little differently to official awards. So, while the first three scores are marked tight to style guidelines, the "overall" allows judges to include an element of whether they think it's a good beer and would drink it again, regardless of adherence to style. At the end of the day, you're unlikely to solely base your decision on whether to drink a beer twice on how accurately it's brewed to style, more on whether you like it.
The second aspect in which we try to make the judging more consumer friendly is by sourcing as much of the beer from retail – buying it off the shelf rather than having brewers send us their best stock. Below you'll see we've listed where the beers came from and, where available, provided the best before or brewed on date.
Given stout is a pretty broad church, we served the beers in clutches as stylistically appropriate as possible and informed the tasters. The beers ranged from Irish style stouts to sweet stouts, oatmeal stouts and extra / foreign extra stouts. There were no imperial stouts and nothing that had been aged in oak. We did have a few "specialty" stouts at Crafty Towers so presented these after the end – outside the main tasting – just to see how they'd go and so we can provide feedback to the brewers. Of these, Exit's Smoked Stout and Southern Bay's Vanilla Oatmeal Stout fared well; indeed, the latter received the highest score of any beer on the day so congrats to Phil and the brewing team in Geelong.
For the main tasting, we lined up 25 stouts. Most were sourced from Australian brewers. Providing some international benchmarks were classics such as Guinness (both normal and Export), Murphy's, Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout and Deschutes Obsidian.
And in a break from the usual outcomes – in which the international classics tend to take the top spot, or at least clog the top of the ladder – the Aussies came home strong. The wonderful 4 Pines Stout – a past AIBA trophy winner – took top spot, narrowly nudging out the Otway Stout from Prickly Moses and Temple's New World Order Stout. The judging took place at Temple so they could have used home advantage but head brewer Glenn Harrison allowed us to use the older batch of beer – the one currently in retail – rather than the one packaged a few days earlier.
Few will be surprised to see Little Creatures' Return of the Dread fare so well – it was the top rating beer for a couple of judges – while Al at Black Duck will be glad he sent some stock down to us just in time for the tasting.
Anyway, the results!
The Top 15
1. 4 Pines Stout – McCoppins Abbotsford – BBF 03/10/15
2. Prickly Moses Otway Stout – McCoppins Abbotsford – No date or batch provided
3. Temple Brewing New World Order – from the brewery – 09/03/16
4. Little Creatures Return of the Dread – Purvis Beer, Richmond – BBF 17/01/16
5. Black Duck Phoenix Migration Stout – from the brewery – BBF 22/04/16
6. Clare Valley Brewing Company King Kong Stout – from the brewery – No date
7. Black Dog Dead Dog Stout – Purvis Beer, Richmond – No date
8. Rehn Bier Extra Stout – from the brewery – BBF December 2015
9. Deschutes Obsidian Stout – Purvis Beer, Richmond – BBF12/06/15
10. Murphy's Irish Stout – Dan Murphy's, Alphington – BBF 30/04/16
11=. Hargreaves Hill Stout – McCoppins Abbotsford – No date
11=. Coopers Best Extra Stout – Dan Murphy's, Alphington – Best after 22/06/15
11=. Hix Irish Stout – Blackhearts & Sparrows, North Fitzroy – No date
11=. CUB Abbotsford Invalid Stout – Dan Murphy's, Alphington – BBF 21/02/17
15. Guinness Draught – Beer DeLuxe, Hawthorn – BBF 29/01/16
The other beers tasted were Morrison Brewery Irish Stout, Southwark Old Stout, Lobethal Bierhaus Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, Cascade Stout, Sam Smith's Oatmeal Stout, Mountain Goat Surefoot Stout (cans), Guinness Extra Stout, Grand Ridge Hatlifter, Nail Oatmeal Stout and Forrest Stout.
We'll be passing tasting note feedback to all featured Aussie brewers this week and will return with at least two more Blind Tasting Panels before the year is out – one or both coming with a twist...
Thanks to the brewers for giving up their Saturday afternoon and to Andrew Tijs (pictured at top) for assistance with serving. Look out for his first articles on the site soon.