Winter weather can mean pretty much anything in Texas. Last month, near Christmas, I was sunning myself on the beach on South Padre Island. Fast-forward a couple weeks, and we were throwing snowballs in Austin. Stouts are usually the go-to beer style for winter, also known as stout season. Though, honestly, when it comes to beer, I am not super strict about drinking seasonally. I’m happy to enjoy a robust porter on a sweltering summer day or a crisp pilsner under a heat lamp in January at a local beer bar. But I have to admit, there’s something comforting about the idea of drinking a hearty stout on a chilly night, which we’ve had our fair share of lately. Sure, you could drink hot tea, but a strong stout is so much more fun. Also, it’s fitting that you drink the darkest beers during the shortest days of the year. Thankfully, Texas has plenty of stout options at the moment, with choices that range as wide as the record high and low January temperatures in Austin (90 and -5 degrees, in case you were wondering, in 1971 and 1949).
Traditionally, breweries release their seasonal stouts starting in September and throughout the fall and winter. Earlier in the season, you can find pumpkin stouts for Halloween and Thanksgiving festivities, but those are mostly gone now. I’m sure if you look hard enough there are still some on the shelves, but wait till next year to get your pumpkin stout fix. Many of these winter brews are imperial or double stouts, reaching 10 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) or higher, and often incorporate coffee or other flavorings. Flavored stouts can be made with something as simple as an addition of chocolate, but in recent years pastry or dessert stouts have gained a huge following. These are usually super sweet and often seek to appeal to beer fans looking to scratch a nostalgic itch, imitating childhood treats or breakfast cereals. Pastry stouts can be fun, but they’re pretty ridiculous. You’re probably better off splitting one with a friend than downing an entire sugary pint.
Thankfully, many breweries also offer year-round stouts, which are usually in the 5 to 7 percent ABV range, but still perfect for winter libation. These often have a more classic taste, as in the case of Irish-style dry stouts, milk stouts, and oatmeal stouts. As you can see, there’s a virtual rainbow of stouts to choose from this winter; this list is just a small sample of what’s on offer around the state. Dry January is practically over, so use this as a jumping-off point for your exploration into the “black stuff.” Don’t be afraid to sample the wild and wacky varieties, such as a pastry stout or a sour stout, but also don’t overlook the tried-and-true classics, including dry stouts and coffee stouts. Most of the beers on this list are distributed to grocery and package stores, but the brewery’s taproom is always the best place to check first.
Bearded Seal, Pinthouse Pizza, Austin and Round Rock
Dry Irish-style stout, 5.5 percent ABV
If you like a pint of Guinness, you will love Bearded Seal. It’s everything you want in a classic stout: dry and drinkable, and made fresh year-round at all four Pinthouse locations, including the newest mega-brewpub on East Ben White Boulevard.
Breakfast Stout, B52 Brewing, Conroe
Oatmeal coffee stout, 8 percent ABV
This is a delicious, straightforward coffee stout, with a considerable kick from Houston’s own Dragons & Unicorns Coffee. I can’t responsibly recommend drinking it for breakfast, but I’ll give you a pass if you slept in a tent the night before.
Cascabel Cream Stout, (512) Brewing, Austin
Cream stout, 6 percent ABV
Spice up your life with a pint of Cascabel Cream Stout. The chile addition in this smooth and silky stout definitely turns up the heat, but not enough to hinder the enjoyment of the beer. This stout was packaged in twelve-ounce bottles for the first time this year.
Full Grown Man-Child, Tupps Brewery, McKinney
Coffee stout, 8.3 percent ABV
Full Grown Man-Child is a solid stout. The coffee and chocolate in the beer don’t smash you over the head, but are definitely present in the glass. Tupps also offers a boozier version of this beer, Full Grown Man, weighing in at a hefty 12.1 percent ABV.
Nailed It, Independence Brewing, Austin
Chocolate stout, 6.8 percent ABV
Labeled as a German chocolate cake stout, this one is loaded with toasted coconut, cacao nibs, and cocoa. Less sweet than I expected, but still a tasty treat. Independence’s year-round Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout is another solid choice.
Neapolitan Ice Cream Sundae, Ingenious Brewing, Humble
Milk stout, 8.3 percent ABV
Get your sweet tooth ready for this one. The strawberries, chocolate, and vanilla packed into this stout will make your cavities tingle—in a good way, if that’s possible. If you are into pastry stouts like this, Ingenious is a brewery you’ll want to visit.
Petite Mutants, Austin Beerworks, Austin
Sour stout, 7.5 percent ABV
Petit Mutants is a stout adventure you won’t want to miss, especially for sour beer fans. Sour stouts aren’t a new thing, but they are still pretty rare. If you’re brave enough, give it a try next time you’re at the Austin Beerworks taproom.
Slippin’ Into Darkness, Brazos Valley Brewing, Brenham
Imperial coffee stout, 10.5 percent ABV
Slippin’ Into Darkness’ flavor starts out sweet, but then transitions into a black coffee bitterness. The stout is flavored with cocoa nibs and Independence Coffee Company’s Jet Fuel blend. And at 10.5 percent, it’s dangerously drinkable. This was my favorite on the list.
Strawberry Milk Stout, Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, San Antonio
Flavored milk stout, 5.3 percent ABV
Who among us does not look back fondly to an after-school cup of Nesquik strawberry milk? Well, this is as close as you’re going to get in a stout. The strawberries, added during the transfer to fermentation, are subtle but noticeable.
This Is the End, Martin House Brewing, Fort Worth
Flavored imperial stout, 10 percent ABV
This is the End is brimming with the flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. Vanilla, which is not usually my favorite flavor in a beer, is the star of the show. Here, though, it works, creating a pleasant and luscious stout. Martin House is probably the king of flavored beers in Texas, and it’s always entertaining to see what they’ll think up next. This Is the End is just the beginning.