Mention the word stout and most people automatically think of Guinness, that world-famous Irish stout from Dublin. Every year around St Patrick’s Day we are bombarded with advertising for the “black stuff” from Ireland and Guinness sales go through the roof in local bars and restaurants.
Guinness may be an undeniable classic and worldwide icon in the world of beers, but is it really the most flavorsome stout on the shelf?
American craft brewers may seem to be obsessed with hop-packed IPAs in this age of craft beer, but craft beer fans will always appreciate a good stout too. Stouts can achieve an equally powerful profile by boosting the ingredient on the other side of the taste spectrum to those hops, the malts.
Although there are many subcategories to the stout style, they all share at least the two basic characteristics of this beer style: an opaque nearly jet-black color from the use of dark malts and the deep roasted flavors, often chocolatey from a heavy malt bill.
Those same American craft brewers now produce fabulous stouts on a much wider scale than ever before and most of them are much more engaging beers than the renowned stout Guinness.
Most of our favorite stout beer releases we look at below are available in multiple states and some of them even nationwide. Most craft brewery tap rooms will carry at least one stout on draft.
Stock up now from your local beer store on some of these lovely stouts, don’t wait until next St Patricks Day. There’s a stout for all seasons, there’s the Imperial Stouts for cozying up with a fire during the colder darker winter months, and lighter Irish styles you can drink all day during the summer.
Stouts now transcend St Patrick’s Day, so try one next time you are out! Just don’t go adding any green food coloring to the stouts to make them seem more Irish – they really don’t need it!
What Makes a Stout American?
With high-profile brands like Guinness, Murphys, and Beamish seen on taps in most Irish bars and sports bars across the US, you would be forgiven for thinking stout is a purely Irish style of beer.
The BJCP describes an American stout as being bigger, stronger, more roast-forward, and more hop-centric than the traditional British and Irish stouts. Generally, the US version of a stout will have much bolder roasted malt flavors and a higher proportion of hops. Some early home-brew stouts were even called West Coast stouts.
Beer geeks may be thinking, “doesn’t that just make it a stronger black IPA?” but stouts have much more of a roast body and complexity of flavors. More like a hoppy, bitter, strongly roasted Irish Extra Stout. The body and flavors are typical of other stouts but with a more aggressive American hop character and bitterness.
10 Best American Stouts
Here’s a list of what we think may be some of the best American stouts:
Best Overall: Deschutes Obsidian Stout ABV 6.4%
Hailing from Oregon, Deschutes Obsidian is a classic example of an American stout. At 6.4% ABV, it may be pushing the boundaries of a regular stout and is not really what you would call a “session stout.”
It’s more of pick one up and go stout, but if you are going to only enjoy one (okay maybe two!) stouts in the evening, why not choose an extra-big stout?
Rich flavors of caramel and roasted malts dominate but it also evokes espresso coffee and chocolate with soft background hints of black licorice and dried figs.
American stouts characteristically exhibit those huge aromas and flavors of citrus or pine resin you get from using American hops, and this stout integrates them seamlessly.
Best Milk Stout: Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro ABV 6%
Milk stouts were originally produced in late 19th Century England in an attempt to make beer more nourishing by adding lactose to the grain bill. Much sweeter than a traditional stout, milk stouts were a very popular variant of stout.
Left Hand Brewing of Colorado not only changed the stout scene when they launched their Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro, but also the entire beer industry as they were the first to introduce nitrogenated bottle beer to the US.
Left Hand was the first craft brewer who mastered the art of bottling a nitrogenated beer without the use of the widget used by Guinness and many other brewers.
Left Hand Milk Stout is an ultra-creamy (thanks to the Nitro) luxurious stout loaded with flavors of coffee, milk chocolate, and vanilla. Pouring it hard out of the bottle, Milk Stout Nitro cascades with tiny bubbles of gas and a tight, thick head like strong whipped cream.
The aroma is of brown sugar and vanilla cream, with hints of roasted coffee. Initial roasty, mocha flavors rise up, with a slight hop & roast bitterness in the finish.
Best Oatmeal Stout: Rogue Beer Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout ABV 5.8%
Oatmeal stouts are again a very popular subclass of stout, which was promoted in the late 19th Century among London dock workers for its nutritional values. Hey, it’s got oatmeal in it, it must be good for you, yes?
If you like the sound of an Oatmeal stout why not check out our Best Oatmeal Stouts article which you can find here? (link to best Oatmeal Stouts)
As you would expect from Rogue Ales, this Oatmeal stout is more intensely bitter at 60 IBU than some beer obsessives would argue is appropriate for this style.
Rogue themselves describe the beer as being ebony in color with a rich creamy head (the oatmeal influence), an earthy flavor, and a mellow chocolate finish. In reality, the roasty malt, toast, and creamy oatmeal give a slight sweetness which is transitioned into an assertive bitterness that lingers.
That abundant American hops flavor and bitterness help to cut through the sweetness and add complexity to the flavor.
A rich blend of both milk and dark chocolate is complimented by some bread notes and a little dark cherry peeking through. The sweetness carries through with flavors of coffee and chocolate and the oatmeal is used well but some would argue is overpowered by the hops. It’s a sweet oatmeal stout but not too sweet.
Best Coffee Stout: Stone Xocoveza Stout ABV 8.1%
Roasted coffee beans and roasted malts are a match made in heaven, especially if you’re a coffee lover. While many stouts will offer coffee flavors without the addition of any extra coffee adjuncts, many craft brewers will amp up the coffee hit by adding liquid coffee to the brew or aging over-roasted coffee beans.
Stone Xocoveza is a “mocha stout” which quickly gained a cult following after the beer recipe won the Stone brewery’s annual home-brew competition. The stout is brewed with coffee, pasilla peppers, Mexican vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate for a flavor that is reminiscent of Mexican hot chocolate.
The stout is now so popular it has made its way onto the brewery’s regular rotation, so keep an eye out for this amazing coffee stout in your local beer hangout.
Best Oyster Stout: Fonta Flora Brackish ABV 6.5%
Oyster Stouts are one of the rarest stouts you will encounter and with good reason too, it’s made with real oysters.
Oysters have long had an association with stouts and when stouts were emerging in the 18th century, oysters were a commonplace food often served in “ye olde taverns”. By the 20th century, oyster beds were in decline, and stout had given way to paler ales.
It was actually a New Zealander who came up with the idea of adding an oyster concentrate to stout to produce an oyster stout and it was first sold by the Dunedin Brewery Company in New Zealand in 1938. A London Brewery started producing Oyster stouts the following year using the same formula and the rest as they say is history.
Although oyster stout may just describe a stout that is good for drinking with oysters or one which has used oyster shells to naturally clarify the beer, Font Flora of North Carolina use whole Virginia and North Carolina oysters to add a hint of salinity to their Oyster Stout, Brackish.
Tasting notes for this curious stout include a mix of caramel, chocolate, and roasted malts providing a sweet, smooth, and roasty base for the ale. But then the finish is even further accentuated with the addition of traditionally crafted North Carolina sea salt. If you like your salty foods and drinks, this one is for you.
Best Imperial Stout: North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout ABV 9%
Contrary to what their names suggest, Russian Imperial Stouts were first brewed in England as a gift for Emperor Peter the Great. This Imperial stout pays homage to the infamous “mad monk” Grigori Rasputin with one of the more haunting beer labels out there.
To be classified as an Imperial Stout, a beer must have an ABV of 8% or higher and this award-winning full-bodied stout has a 9 percent ABV and is made in the classic 18th-century style.
The resulting stout is strong as hell, but a so-drinkable stout with notes of dried fruit, chocolate, fresh-brewed coffee, and caramel that it could be dangerous. It’s almost too chocolatey in taste and aroma.
Best Barrel Aged Stout: Goose Island Bourbon County ABV 12.9%
With an exceedingly high ABV of 12.9%, this stout from Goose Island could also be classed as a barrel-aged Imperial Stout with slow barrel aging giving this limited-release beer much more complex flavors.
Originally brewed in 1992 to celebrate the brew pub’s 1,000th batch of beer, this was the world’s first bourbon barrel-aged beer as well as the first barrel-aged stout. It is now one of Goose Island’s most eagerly awaited seasonal brews every year.
Taking the infamous Goose Island stout recipe, a beer of craft beer royalty, the Bourbon County Stout is aged and blended in freshly emptied bourbon barrels hunted down by the passionate head brewer from such well-known distilleries as Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Buffalo Trace. Expect lots of complex flavors such as vanilla, dark chocolate, toffee, molasses, almonds, and dried fruits.
Best Pastry Stout: Hardywood Gingerbread Stout ABV 9.2%
The pastry stout category rose to popularity in 2018 and they are the perfect American stouts to serve with a dessert. Most Pastry stouts don’t stick around too long, although Hardywood seemed to be the exception to the rule with the staying power of its top-selling beer, Gingerbread Pastry Stout.
Made with locally grown baby ginger and wildflower honey, this Pastry stout has been around since 2011 before Pastry stouts were a thing and put the Richmond, Virginia brewery well and truly on the map.
The flavor of this Imperial strength stout is bursting with vanilla, cinnamon, and snappy ginger in addition to the usual chocolatey notes you would expect from a stout. Despite the 9.2% ABV, it’s a highly drinkable dessert stout.
Best American Irish Stout: Schlafly Irish-Style Extra Stout ABV 8.0%
Although we are looking at the best American stouts, this stout from the St Louis Brewery in Missouri pays homage to the dry Irish stouts which have inspired many of our US-born stouts. The foreign-style” or “export” stout is something you will not often see on the craft beer brewing scene but when done right the results can be pretty amazing.
This Irish Style Extra stout from Schlafly takes the traditional dry stout formula and then amps it up to just short of the double or imperial stout level. The extra ABV allows the stout to unlock a deeper flavor profile which doesn’t normally feature in many other stouts of this variety.
Expect complex flavors and aromas of dried fruits, notes of raisins or dates along with a burnt sugar character in addition to the deep chocolate and caramel notes of a traditional stout.
Next time you are tempted to reach for a bottle of Guinness Extra Foreign Export Stout, see if you can find this offering from Schlafly for a much more flavorsome brew.
Best Hoppy Stout: Sierra Nevada Stout West Coast Style ABV 5.8%
Although Sierra Neva may be better known for the classic pale ale, the first beer they produced in 1980 was actually this West Coast Style stout. Building their first brewhouse using recycled dairy equipment they needed to test out their hard work and so they loaded it up with this heavy dark stout.
When they sipped the very first bottle of that first batch, the guys at Sierra Nevada knew they had a keeper.
With a nod to the West Coast which the brewery is now famous for, Sierra Nevada Stout balances the deep roasted malt flavors of a stout with the earthy whole-cone hops of American classics such as Bravo, Cascade, Yakima, and Goldings hops.
Although it has a slightly higher bitterness of 50 IBUs, think of a traditional stout chocolatey and caramel flavor from the use of caramelized malts, chocolate, and carafe malt backed by an earthy hop aroma and crisp bite. It’s like the love child of an IPA and a dry stout. Perfect for those of us who enjoy a hoppier beer!