Monday, 22 December 2014 16:47

Michigan Stout Face-Off

Written by  Joe Boomgaard
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When winter rolls around, it’s a not-so-subtle cue to start drinking stouts.

There’s just something warming about the roasty and rich coffee flavors featured in so many of the styles that pairs well with the season. These are typically beers with some personality — just like a Pure Michigan winter.

Most stouts are black in appearance with an off-white or tan head and very light carbonation. Some examples lean heavily on initial flavors like coffee or dark fruits, while others go more for sweetness with the addition of lactose sugar. For flavors, most stouts settle into a roasted smoothness that’s marked with some citrus hoppiness. These are thick-bodied beers, often with the appearance of motor oil. Expect a nice dry-roasted bitterness or lingering coffee notes to last long into the finish.

To get a sense for how Michigan-made stouts compare, REVUE sampled and rated 10 examples of the style that were available in cans or bottles. We chose stouts that were available in early December in the greater Grand Rapids market. (Fans of Founders’ Breakfast Stout take note: It’s an imperial stout. We’ll be looking at that style in the future.)

Here’s what we found out.


The Judges
(Get to know the people behind the reviews.)

• Joe Boomgaard
Beer Czar of Revue West Michigan and Managing Editor of MiBiz.
(The blackness of stouts lures in this heavy metal fan like a siren’s call.)

• Nick Manes
Beer Bro of Revue West Michigan and Staff Writer at MiBiz.
(Typically, the only time he’ll drink stouts are when they’re free.)

• Nathan Peck
Project Manager at Pridgeon & Clay, a manufacturer in Grand Rapids; Former scribe at MiBiz.
(Prefers dark beers for a dark night.)

• John Wiegand
Staff Writer at MiBiz
(Likes his stouts the same way he likes his women: “Dark and murky.”)


The Process

The judges did a blind tasting of 10 beers and rated them based on appearance (10 points), aroma (20 points), flavor/finish (30 points), body (20 points) and overall impressions (20 points). The scores listed here are an average of the judges’ ratings based on a 100-point scale, with 100 being a perfect score.


The Stouts

(Listed by score from highest to lowest)

Too Cream Stout
Dark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall
7.5% ABV
(No date on bottle)

This is a thick-looking beer that poured with a strong off-tan head. Burnt sugar dominates the nose and the flavor starts sweet, features a roasty bitterness with a nice, oily mouthfeel. It’s sugary, but not overpoweringly sweet. A well-rounded, balanced beer that stays within the boundaries of the style.

Score: 86.5 — TIE!


Cup A Joe Coffee Creme Stout
Short’s Brewing Co., Bellaire
7.0% ABV
(Bottled 12/3/14)

This one is all about the coffee — and lots of it, although there’s some fruitiness that creeps into the aroma. This is another thick beer. The flavor is heavy on the dark roasted coffee taste, with some hop bitterness as well. There’s definitely a complex malt bill here, as well as a long finish. “Now we’re talking,” Peck wrote.

Score: 86.5 — TIE!


Dubious Black Chocolate Stout
North Peak Brewing, Traverse City
5.3% ABV
(No date on bottle)

Pours with a great dark color and a nice tan head. This one smells and tastes sweet, but “not offensively so,” Manes wrote. It’s rich in flavor, but has a lighter body than most stouts. The beer is eminently drinkable with a lingering finish.

Score: 77.25


CEO Stout
Right Brain Brewing Co., Traverse City
5.5% ABV
(Canned 10/20/14)

This one seems to be all about coffee, which dominates the beer’s nose. However, the taste doesn’t live up to the aroma. Peck described it as “a dry hump that’s not living up to the nose.” The body is rather thick and sticky and coats the tongue, which helps bring out the long finish.

Score: 71.25


Kalamazoo Stout
Bell’s Brewery Inc., Kalamazoo
6.0% ABV
(Bottled 10/29/14)

This beer pours dark with a nice tan head. A strong sweetness dominates the nose, but the taste stands out for being almost savory with some roastiness thrown in for good measure. The body was a bit thinner than most had hoped, and the finish was perhaps its best quality.

Score: 70.5


Neapolitan Milk Stout
Saugatuck Brewing Co., Saugatuck
6.0% ABV
(No date on bottle)

This beer was lighter color to the others with a reddish hue. Strong, fruity aromas seemed strange here, and the taste confirmed it. The judges said it was reminiscent of Neapolitan ice cream, although the strawberry flavors could come off as somewhat artificial. This is a beer that would probably hold up well on its own, but it doesn’t fit in with the others here.

Score: 59.0


North Third Stout
Blackrocks Brewery, Marquette
6.0% ABV
(No date on can, but was just released by brewery)

One of the few beers in this comparison that featured the dark fruit throughout the aroma and the taste instead of going heavily into coffee. The consensus was that it was a highly drinkable beer, yet “unremarkable.”

Score: 59.0


Milkshake Stout
Rochester Mills Beer Co., Rochester
5.0% ABV
(Drink by 3/1/15 listed on can)

This one was lighter-bodied than the others. It was dark with a good head and a sweet aroma, but the taste just wasn’t there. There was some coffee in the back end of it, but the beer as a whole was “nothing special,” Wiegand wrote.

Score: 57.75


Special Double Cream Stout
Bell’s Brewery Inc., Kalamazoo
6.1% ABV
(Bottled on 9/17/14)

The appearance didn’t hold up to the black-as-night standard set by the others. This was another beer with dark fruity aromas, and it seemed rather singularly focused in that regard. Judges liked its sticky body, but nothing else really stood out.

Score: 53.5


The Poet
New Holland Brewing Co., Holland
5.2% ABV
(No date on bottle)

Pours with a white head and a fruity aroma. Overall, the flavor was rather weak, without much of the roastiness typical in the style. One reviewer detected a slight buttery flavor, which could suggest that there may have been an issue with this bottle. Without a date, it’s tough to tell if age was a factor.

Score: 44


 Beer Events

• The fifth-annual Kalamazoo Beer Week (KBW) runs from Jan. 10-17 and features a series of craft beer-related events at area bars, restaurants and retailers. KBW offers patrons the chance to meet with brewers, learn about the process of making beer and interact with fellow beer aficionados. Last year’s KBW featured more than 200 events. Check for more information and details about the dozens of events around Southwest Michigan.

• The first Pure Ludington Brrrewfest will take place Saturday, Jan. 31 from 1-6 p.m. in downtown Ludington. The celebration of Michigan beers will feature more than 20 of the state’s breweries and live music. Acts were still being determined at the time this report went to press. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door and include a 5 oz. sampling glass and six drink tokens. Additional glassware and tokens will be available for purchase at the festival. Visit for more information. Organizers hope to sell about 1,000 tickets for the event, but they can expand the event if needed to meet more demand.

A pre-fest beer-and-food pairing dubbed “The Big Chill” will take place from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29 at Jamesport Brewing Co. The dinner features local dessert and ice cream and live entertainment. Tickets are $40.


Beer News


• Pigeon Hill Brewing Co. in Muskegon is planning a $1 million expansion to add a new production facility to support distribution.

• Railtown Brewing Co. opened its doors in December. The brewery is located at 3555 68th St. SE in Dutton.

New Holland Brewing opened Sidecar, a new 1,600-square-foot merchandise and tasting room located in space next to its downtown Holland pub at 72 East 8th St. The store features a line of branded merchandise, apparel and beer and spirits to go. The company also plans to offer samples and flights of its products.



• named Grand Rapids the sixth-best beer city in the nation for 2014 behind Bend, Ore., Denver, Colo., San Diego, Calif., Albuquerque, N.M. and Tampa, Fla. “Grand Rapids offers innovative and award-winning breweries, residents who consume beer at higher rates than the average American, sophisticated beer tastes and a high-quality of life for beer lovers,” the editors said in their announcement.

• Fennville-based Virtue Ciders Lapinette Cidre Brut 2013 Harvest was awarded the gold medal in the cider, perry or mead category at the 2014 Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers in Chicago. Lapinette is a cider aged in French oak barrels with French yeast.

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