February just hasn’t been the same in Boulder County without Stout Month, Mountain Sun Pubs and Breweries’ month-long celebration of the dark, top-fermented style of beer.
After a two-year hiatus, the party is back on, with nearly 30 stouts pouring across Kevin Daly’s four sister pubs (Vine Street Pub in Denver is still closed). And this year, it’s all Mountain Sun-brewed stouts, with no guest taps.
“It’s such a distinct style,” says Mountain Sun head brewer John Fiorilli. “We’ve tried in the past to do IPA month or a Belgian month, but nothing really gives the variety that you can give people with stouts.”
Fiorilli, who has been with Mountain Sun for 23 years, says stouts are a “more approachable beer than people think.” A number of the offerings on the Stout Month menu are around or even under 5% ABV — on par with the alcohol content of many pilsners — and “very light bodied.”
“The key ingredient that really makes a stout is roasted barley, and roasted barley has flavors that lean right into chocolate and coffee, which are flavors a lot of people really like already,” Fiorilli says. “If you enjoy coffee, I bet I can find a stout that you like, even one of the ones that doesn’t have coffee in it.”
For those looking to learn a bit more about how beers develop specific flavor profiles, Fiorilli has provided in-depth descriptions of each brew on the menu, including the hops, malts, barley and adjunct ingredients. Patrons of Stout Month will also notice an “original gravity” for each beer, which measures the sugar content in the beer before fermentation.
“The higher the original gravity, the higher the sugar content, which means more sugar is available to ferment into alcohol,” Fiorilli says, which equates to how much potential alcohol will be in a finished beer.
Here are a few stouts you need to try this month.
Addiction Imperial Coffee Stout
“It has always been one of our favorite beers,” Fiorilli says of the 2010 World Beer Cup silver medal-winning brew. Brewed with java from Salto coffeehouse in Nederland (as are all of Mountain Sun’s coffee-based beers, like the beloved Java Porter), Addiction Imperial Coffee also offers flavors of chocolate, dark fruit and caramel, clocking in at 9.3% ABV. Chinook and Crystal hops impart earthy, green and subtly pine-like flavors to this rich and complex beer.
Chocwork Orange Stout
This is the second time Fiorilli has brewed this “citrus-forward” brew with milk and dark chocolates and tangerine puree. “It’s kind of a fun balance of a little sweetness from the chocolate and end tartness from the citrus purees,” Fiorilli says. With a 6.5% ABV, Chocwork is brewed with Amarillo hops, which adds to the floral-like citrus flavor and aroma.
Planet Lovetron Chocolate Coconut Imperial Milk Stout
Infused with fresh — not extract — organic coconut, milk and dark chocolate, and a full pound per barrel of Tahitian vanilla bean, Fiorilli used to wait until Valentine’s Day to tap this “perennial favorite,” but “we stopped doing set release dates on beers because we don’t want people to wait to drink these,” he says with a laugh. This smooth and creamy stout registers a 10.1% ABV, so make sure and savor this one slowly and see if you think the black malt it’s brewed with tastes more like currants, blackberries or golden raisins.
Ravenglass English Imperial Stout
This one’s for the malt heads. Light on hops, with very low bitterness, this medium- to full-bodied beer uses seven types of malt, including dark crystal malts. “So it has a little bit of that toffee character,” Fiorilli says. You can also roll this one across the palette to look for notes of burned sugar, raisin, cherry and plum.