Friday, January 31, 2014

Exploring the BJCP: Stouts (Category 13)

This is a post in a long running series where I take a look into each category of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).  Scroll to the bottom for links to other categories I have covered.

The BJCP divides stouts into 6 sub-categories:
  1. Dry Stout (13A)
  2. Sweet Stout (13B)
  3. Oatmeal Stout (13C)
  4. Foreign Extra Stout (13D)
  5. American Stout (13E)
  6. Russian Imperial Stout (13F)
It should be fairly simple to pick out a dry stout and Russian imperial stout in a tasting, but it may not be so easy for the other 4 sub-categories of stout.  Just take a look at what the BJCP gives as to what their "overall impression" is for each of these styles. 

Dry Stout:  "A very dark, roasty, bitter, creamy ale."
Sweet Stout:  "A very dark, sweet, full bodied, slightly roasty ale.  Often tastes like sweetened espresso."
Oatmeal Stout:  "A very dark, full bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavor."
Foreign Extra Stout:  "A very dark, moderately strong, roasty ale.  Tropical varieties can be quite sweet, while export versions can be drier and fairly robust."
American Stout:  "A hoppy, bitter, strongly roasted Foreign-style Stout (of the export variety)."
Russian Imperial Stout:  "An intensely flavored, big, dark ale.  Roasty, fruity, and bittersweet, with a noticeable alcohol presence.  Dark fruit flavors meld with roasty, burnt, or almost tar-like sensations.  Like a black barleywine with every dimension of flavor coming into play."

The first 5 in the list are actually quite similar, right?  Let us look into each of these styles a little closer.

Dry Stout

Looking at the BJCP's description of Dry Stout, the key characteristics are a thick, creamy head on top of the beer, a roasted and grainy sharpness in the flavor, and a dry, coffee-like finish.  Also, the beer must have a very smooth mouthfeel, despite any grainiess and astringency.  Some notable examples of this style are Guinness Draught Stout, Murphy's Stout and Beamish Stout.  See the style description in the previous link for more commercial examples  and information on style guidelines. 

Brooklyn Brewery, Craft Beer, Dry Irish Stout
Brooklyn Brewery Dry Irish Stout

For this post, I wanted to try some of the BJCP's commercial examples I had never had before, so I picked up a bottle of Brooklyn Brewery's Dry Irish Stout.  At 4.7% abv, this Dry Stout fits nicely into the 4-5% abv range given by the BJCP for the style.  It pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color, that lets a bit of light come through.  A small, off-white head is produced which dissipates quickly.  The aroma was very light, but from what I could pick up reminded me of light coffee with some chocolate character to it.  The flavor of this Dry Stout was composed of roasted grains and light coffee.  There was also a touch of sourness involved. The beer had a grainy finish and medium-bodied mouthfeel.

Sweet Stout

The sweet stout, or milk/cream stout, is, unsurprisingly, a sweeter stout when compared to a dry stout.  This can be achieved in several ways, including decreasing the hop bitterness, altering the mash schedule to increase the production of dextrins, and by adding lactose to the beer.  Commercial examples given by the BJCP include Mackeson's XXX Stout, Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout (Lacto), Left Hand Milk Stout and more.  See the style description in the previous link for more commercial examples and information on style guidelines.

St. Peter's Brewery, England, Cream Stout, Craft Beer
St. Peter's Brewery Cream Stout

To cover this beer, I picked up a beer I had been wanting to try for awhile, but had always passed on. Cream Stout, from St. Peter's Brewery located in Suffolk, England, comes in at 6.5% abv, which is a little above the recommended 4-6% abv given from the BJCP.  The beer pours black, although some light does penetrate through the beer at the edges, giving off a reddish hue.  A somewhat delicate pour produced a small, tan head.  Aromas consisted of coffee, milk and toast.  There is an amount of sweet but subtle coffee and chocolate flavor to the beer, and a creamy presence.  After having a few sips, there is a lingering flavor of sweetened coffee in my mouth.  It is really quite a smooth drinking beer, with only a touch of astringency in the finish.

Oatmeal Stout

In Oatmeal Stout's BJCP comments section, the Oatmeal Stout is described as "generally between sweet and dry stouts in sweetness."  You can expect the usual mixture of coffee, chocolate and roasted grains in the aroma and flavor of Oatmeal Stouts, but expect a slightly higher hop presence, and sometimes a nutty or earthy feel from the use of oats in the recipe.  Some classic examples given by the BJCP are Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, New Holland The Poet, Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout and more.  See the style description in the previous link for more commercial examples and information on style guidelines.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Craft Beer, Boonville, California
Anderson Valley Brewing Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout

In keeping with trying new beers for this post, I chose to pick up Anderson Valley Brewing Company's Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout.  Brewed in Boonville, CA, this stout comes in at 5.8% abv, which is at the high end of the BJCP's recommended 4.2-5.9% abv.  Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout poured black with a small tan head.  The aroma was the usual mixture of coffee, chocolate and roasted grains, none of which stood out more than the others to me.  In the flavor was chocolate and sweetened coffee.  This Oatmeal Stout was a very smooth and creamy beer.

Foreign Extra Stout

Here is where things start to get a little tricky.  According to the BJCP, there are two types of Foreign Extra Stout, Tropical and Export Type.  Tropical Types are often sweet, lacking much roast or bitterness, while the opposite is true for the Export Type.  The end of the first sentence in the flavor description of Foreign Extra Stout on the BJCP page really sums it up: "....scaled up version of either sweet stout or dry stout."  So could Foreign Extra Stout's be described as simply sweet stouts or dry stouts with a little extra oomf?  Maybe....either way, here is some more info on Foreign Extra Stout from the excellent Zythophile blog.  Some examples of Foreign Extra Stout provided by the BJCP are Lion Stout (from Sri Lanka), Dragon Stout (from Jamaica), Coopers Best Extra Stout and others.

Elysian Brewing, Seattle, Washington, Craft Beer, Dragonstooth Stout
Elysian Brewing Dragonstooth Stout

I was unable to obtain a Tropical Type Foreign Extra Stout for this post, but if I do, I will be sure to send out an update!  I "settled" for Elysian Brewing's Dragonstooth Stout.  Brewed in Seattle, WA, this Export Type Foreign Extra Stout comes in at 7.45% abv, fitting into BJCP's recommendation of 5.5-8% abv.  Dragonstooth Stout poured black with a large brown head.  The aroma was of roasted grains and coffee, while the flavor had elements of bitter coffee, nuts and a subtle touch of fruit.  The beer was quite sweet, full bodied with a medium amount of carbonation. 

American Stout

Of course there's an American version, just to make things even more interesting!  American Stout takes the characteristics from the previous styles and turns them up a notch.  You can expect stronger coffee and chocolate aromas and flavors.  A burnt grain quality can often be found in these beers.  Some hop presence is even alright.  Some commercial examples given by the BJCP are Sierra Nevada Stout, Avery Out of Bounds Stout, North Coast Old No. 38 and others.  Check out the full description of the style by checking out the previous link.

Bar Harbor Brewing, Maine, Acadia National Park, Cadillac Mountain Stout
Bar Harbor Brewing Cadillac Mountain Stout

For the American Stout style, I picked Bar Harbor Brewing's Cadillac Mountain Stout.  I have enjoyed this stout in the past, but it had been awhile (pre-Untappd days, because I had never checked it in).  I couldn't find the alcohol content on the bottle or the website, but Untappd claims it is 6.7% abv, which has it fit right into the BJCP guidelines of 5-7% abv for an American Stout.  Cadillac Mountain Stout pours black, with only a minimal amount of light coming through the beer at the edges.  After pouring the beer semi-vigorously, a large, long lasting, brown head formed.  Dark roast coffee with a touch of soy dominated the aroma.  The flavor consisted of an assertive mix of coffee and chocolate, with a bit of citrus hop tingling my tongue in the finish.  Cadillac Mountain Stout is full bodied with lots of flavor, yet still quite smooth, but not in a creamy way, if that makes sense. There was only a hint of alcohol presence.

Russian Imperial Stout

The big daddy of them all, the Russian Imperial Stout races full throttle, yet deserves to be sipped.  Often quite complex, the flavor profile may include variable amounts of roasted grains and malts, fruity esters, hop bitterness and variable amounts of coffee and chocolate.  If interested, you should be probably just go to the BJCP website in the previous link and read their lengthy description.  It is quite all-encompassing.  Several commercial examples the BJCP provides are Three Floyd's Dark Lord, North Coast Old Rasputin, Samuel Smith Imperial Stout, Great Lakes Blackout Stout and more.

Rogue Brewery, XS Russian Imperial Stout, 2009, Oregon, Craft Beer
Rogue XS Russian Imperial Stout 2009
To close out my post on stouts, I picked up a 2009 bottle of Rogue XS Russian Imperial Stout that I found sitting at a local liquor store.  This 11% abv stout fits into the BJCP guidelines of 8-12% abv for Russian Imperial Stouts, but you will find many examples which do not.  Rogue's Russian Imperial Stout poured pitch black with a very small brown head which dissipated quick.  There was no lacing to speak of.  The aroma was full of deep roasted tones, coffee, dark chocolate and soy sauce.  Even though this was a 2009 bottle, the flavor consisted of lots of alcohol and coffee.  It tasted very ashy. There was a full body, and only a light carbonation present.  Definitely a sipping beer!


Do you have a favorite style of stout?  Do you agree/disagree with the BJCP's style guidelines on stouts?  Feel free to talk about it in the comments!


That closes out my exploration of the Beer Judge Certification Program's stout guidelines,  Stay tuned for further BJCP posts!

In the meantime, you can check out my past Exploring the BJCP posts:
Strong Scotch Ales
Brown Porters
Robust Porters
Baltic Porters

2 comments:

  1. I have not yet picked up my beers for this Category, but I have a few of them before. Dragons Tooth is beyond tasty! I got a growler of this every time I went to the brewery. I miss living just South of Seattle. This is one of the breweries you have to go to. If you are ever near Pike Place, hit Pike to start with and then Elysian is only a few miles away. But that is just me going on lol anyway.

    Cheers!

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    1. Dragonstooth was extremely delicious. The price point made it phenomenal. I think like $5 or $6 for a bomber. Stouts is definitely a tough category. Within each style of stout, there is SO much variation the brewer can make (roast levels, chocolate levels, mouthfeels, etc) that sometimes it seems that a beer can easily slip into another category. Not that the brewer cares, but it makes judging/picking a beer out a bunch of beers just that much more difficult.

      My wife and I are hoping to get to Seattle in the next year or two. Will definitely be hitting up those breweries!

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