When we talk about “grocery store” beers, we tend to think of light beers, lagers, pilsners, and IPAs. But when it comes to the beer aisle (or cooler) at contemporary beer sellers, there are a lot more choices than there were even a few years ago. This means many other styles also fit the criteria of “grocery store beers” — including stouts.
Sure, there are the usual suspects like Guinness Stout and Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, but there are myriad other stouts available at almost any grocer or beer store. And today I decided to blindly taste the best of them (or at least the most prominent). I picked eight widely available stouts (including the aforementioned Guinness and Smith Smith’s stouts) and blindly nosed, tasted, and ranked them. I specifically selected a mix of various stout styles. There are Irish dry stouts, oatmeal stouts, Nitro stouts, and even a few imperial stouts. Keep scrolling to see how everything turned out.
Here’s today’s lineup:
- Guinness Stout
- Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout
- Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout
- Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout
- Great Divide Yeti
- Deschutes Obsidian Stout
- Sierra Nevada Narwhal Stout
- Murphy’s Irish Stout
Part 1: The Taste
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The nose is roasted malts and dark chocolate, but really nothing else. The palate is more of the same with roasted malts, dark chocolate, cereal grains, and light hops.
Overall, not the most exciting palate and is a little too sweet for my liking.
Cocoa powder, freshly brewed coffee, milk chocolate, vanilla, oak, vanilla, and roasted malts, the aromas on this beer’s nose seem to be never-ending. The palate continues this trend with more dark chocolate, coffee beans, fudge, roasted malts, and gentle, floral, herbal hops at the finish. The ending is a mix of sweetness and bitterness and leaves you craving more.
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Aromas of bready malts, roasted malts, coffee, and dark chocolate greeted me before my first sip. The palate keeps this trend going with sweet caramel malts, roasted barley, dark chocolate, and freshly brewed coffee. It’s smooth, creamy, and dry.
Not overly exciting, but definitely a decent beer.
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Before my first sip, I was met with aromas of roasted malts, caramel, chocolate, coffee, and lightly bitter pine. On the palate, I found notes of bitter chocolate, licorice, espresso, and roasted malts. The finish is a mix of sweetness and bitter hops.
Overall, a very unique stout.
Complex aromas of roasted malts, coffee beans, bready malts, toffee, and a gentle nutty sweetness greeted me before my first sip. Drinking it, I found notes of molasses cookies, dark chocolate, roasted malts, espresso beans, and a gentle, slightly bitter finish that tied everything together nicely.
From my notes: “This is a complex, multi-dimensional stout.”
I noticed chocolate, dried fruits, caramel, and not much else on the nose. The palate was creamy and smooth but didn’t have much substance beyond chocolate, butterscotch, and light biscuit malts. Fairly one-dimensional and unexciting overall.
The nose isn’t overly pungent with roasted malts, caramel, freshly brewed coffee, and dark chocolate making heavy appearances. Taking a sip reveals even more dark chocolate, coffee, roasted malts, vanilla beans, and licorice. The finish is creamy, sweet, and dry.
The nose is all earthy grass, roasted malts, dark chocolate, and slight pine needles. On the palate, I found more dark chocolate, caramel malts, freshly brewed coffee, roasted barley, and some vanilla. The finish is creamy, sweet, and dry.
Part 2: The Ranking
8) Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout (Taste 6)
Average Price: $11.50 for a four-pack
This 5% ABV, vegan-friendly oatmeal stout is brewed with onsite well water as well as malted barley, cane sugar, roasted malts, yeast, hops, and oatmeal. It gets some of its velvety, creamy mouthfeel from the addition of carbon dioxide.
If you’re okay with a fairly one-dimensional stout with chocolate and not much else, this is a great beer for you. Otherwise, opt for something with a little more substance.
7) Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout (Taste 1)
Average Price: $11.50 for a six-pack
One of the most milk stouts in America, Left Hand Milk Stout is brewed with 2-row, Crystal, Chocolate, and Munich malts as well as lactose (hence the name) roasted barley, flaked barley, and rolled oats. It gets its hop presence from the addition of CTZ and US Goldings hops.
This is a velvety smooth milk stout. It’s just a little one-dimensional and sweet for my liking. It’s not a terrible beer, just not the best.
6) Murphy’s Irish Stout (Taste 3)
Average Price: $8.75 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans
While Guinness Stout gets all the hype when it comes to Irish stouts (and readily available stouts in general), fellow Irish brand Murphy’s makes a widely popular stout as well. It’s brewed simply with water, malted barley, un-malted barley, hop extract, and gets its mouthfeel from the addition of nitrogen.
This isn’t Guinness and that’s more than okay. If you’re looking for a drinkable, reasonably well-balanced Irish stout that isn’t Guinness, give this one a try.
5) Sierra Nevada Narwhal (Taste 8)
Average Price: $13.99 for a six-pack
Sierra Nevada gets a lot of hype for its industry-changing pale ale and its myriad IPAs, but this imperial stout definitely shouldn’t be forgotten. It gets its bold, robust flavor from being brewed with caramelized malts, Chocolate, Carafa III, Estate Pale, Honey, smoked and two-row malts as well as roasted barley.
Sierra Nevada crafted a great imperial stout when they made Narwhal. It’s loaded with roasted malts, chocolate, coffee, and other expected stout flavors. Its only downfall is its high ABV (10.2%), making it less of an everyday drinker.
4) Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout (Taste 4)
Average Price: $11.99 for a six-pack
This popular stout is available year-round but is best suited for fall and winter drinking. Brewed simply with water, malt, hops, and house ale yeast, it gets its unique flavor from the addition of Brewer’s Licorice.
This isn’t your average stout. While it has the elements stout drinkers enjoy (roasted malts, coffee, and chocolate), it also has a nice hop presence.
3) Guinness Stout (Taste 7)
Average Price: $10.50 for a six-pack
In the world of stouts, there is none more famous than the classic, timeless Guinness Stout. This iconic 4.2% ABV dry Irish stout is made with simple ingredients like water, malted barley, un-malted barley, roasted barley, hops, and yeast. It gets its velvety mouthfeel from the use of nitrogen.
There’s a reason Guinness stout is such a popular beer. And while much of it is advertising, it’s also a great beer. It’s creamy, sweet, and filled with all the flavors stout lovers enjoy.
2) Great Divide Yeti (Taste 2)
Average Price: $13.50 for a six-pack
This award-winning year-round beer from the folks at Great Divide is known for its roasted malts, sweet caramel, coffee, and dark chocolate flavors. The addition of hops brings an added dimension to this robust, potent imperial stout
Great Divide Yeti is a great stout. This imperial stout has everything stout fans crave and, while it’s a little higher than most stouts at 9.5%, the alcohol content doesn’t overpower the rich flavor profile.
1) Deschutes Obsidian Stout (Taste 5)
Average Price: $9.50 for a six-pack
This bold, complex, beloved stout gets its roasted malt, chocolate, and coffee flavors from the addition of 2-row, Munich, Crystal, Carapils, and Chocolate malts as well as roasted barley and Delta and Northern Brewer hops.
You’d have a tough time finding a more complex, well-balanced stout that you can find at most grocery or beer stores than Deschutes Obsidian. One sip and it will become your fall and winter go-to.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
As is often the case with my blind taste tests, it’s clear balance is key when it comes to stouts. I’m not interested in overly sweet, cloying stouts without much substance. I’m also not interested in bitter stouts either. There’s a certain sweet spot where they have a mix of malt sweetness, some bitter chocolate and coffee, and a smattering of hops. This is what I’m looking for and the number one pick here nails those parameters!