International Stout Smackdown

By Ethan Fixell |
FWS BEER OLYMPICS INTERNATIONAL STOUT SMACKDOWN ETHAN FIXELL

Comedian and beer geek Ethan Fixell Courtesy of Ethan Fixell

Talent. Dedication. Tastiness. All are qualities shared by the competitors in the most elite world games known to humanity: the Beer Olympics.

Stouts are dark beers made with heavily roasted malt or barley. And four of these incredible beers will face off in today's international showdown. But unlike the highly vetted arbiters of those Winter Games in Sochi, a Beer Olympics judge needs only a curiosity about beer tasting and a night off from operating any heavy machinery. That's right, even you can play along!

With stouts originating in 17th-century London, the Brits have experience in their corner—but will that translate to a sweep in all categories against the North Americans? Guess you'll have to drink with me to find out.

Appearance

Belhaven Scottish Stout; English Stout; Scotland: The Scots adopted the English-style stout as seamlessly as the US came to master the french fry, and Belhaven's has arguably been the most popular stout of its kind since 1719. It pours with a rich, thick, creamy head that disappears rather quickly, melting into deep espresso–colored liquid. A lovely dismount.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout; Milk Stout; England: In the 19th century, brewers bragged about the health benefits of cream stouts, but we know now that adding milk sugar translates to only an increased sweetness—and a little extra belly fat. This hearty milk stout nearly blinds a judge when carbonated foam explodes from its nitro can! But what begins as a seemingly reckless start settles into a deep, dark pour topped by a creamy head that lingers much longer than that of its opponent.

Sierra Nevada Stout; American Stout; U.S.: American stouts are fairly hoppy for the style—some might even say they're an improvement upon the English recipe. Nearly opaque, Sierra Nevada's version tumbles from the bottle, topping itself with a mild tan head. It's a close call, but this might just be the darkest of the bunch thus far. We'll see if the Canadians have anything to say about that...

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque; American Stout; Canada: Americans may resent Canada for Justin Bieber, but we must show it gratitude for at least two things: its ice hockey stars, and its take on the American stout. Aphrodisiaque is a prime example of the latter, pouring with perfect pitch blackness and capped with a quickly fading tan foam.

The first event ends in a relative dead heat—but I give this one to England.

POINT: Young's Double Chocolate Stout

Aroma

Belhaven: As Scotland's entrant makes its way to the nose, scents of roasted malt and dried fruit become apparent, though faint. What a delicate display of aroma!

Young's: England's representative offers an inescapable chocolate bouquet. It could be a bit simple for some, but if you're as into chocolate as I am, there's no reason to escape from its decadent grasp.

Sierra Nevada: And would you get a whiff of that dark, roasted malt accented by floral, piney hops? Yes, a bold showing from the Americans, but not enough to out-scent the Brits.

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel: Scents of both chocolate and vanilla mingle in a mocha mambo, dancing their way through this judge's nose, and straight to his heart. Why settle for chocolate when you have so much more?

POINT: Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque

Mouthfeel

Belhaven: Moving beyond the lips, Belhaven tantalizes with a surprisingly light, smooth (and almost—dare I say—silky?) mouthfeel. "Oh, yes," this judge tells the liquid in his maw, "you can stay here as long as you like."

Young's: The soft, velvety consistency is even creamier and foamier than that of its predecessor, perhaps even to the point of excess. The judges have begun to twitter: Is Scotland grandstanding? Show some modesty, lads!

Sierra Nevada: The US closes out the round with a medium crispness that does its job, but fails to impress. A solid effort, but you'll need to wow us for the gold, America.

Brasserie du Ciel: Both British entrants may have nailed silky and creamy, but can either lay claim to the luscious label? Aphrodisiaque can, proving its origins from the French-influenced city of Montreal, where the food is rich and the drinks are even richer.

POINT: Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque

Taste

Belhaven: At what could be the crux of the competition, Scotland pulls off a delicious, well-balanced flavor much bolder than its nose would suggest. Sweet chocolate and cola flavors make their way to the forefront without cloying.

Young's: As England journeys down the gullet, an indescribably smooth flavor takes form. Hints of fruit cordial round out predominantly chocolate milk–like profile. Tasty, indeed—but lacking the bite that this judge is looking for.

Sierra Nevada: Now here's a surprise: The Americans exhibit a much richer, deeper taste than expected. Dark malts blend beautifully with a bitter hoppiness, creating a complex brew you can practically sink your teeth into. The dark horse surges ahead!

Brasserie du Ciel: But wait! Just when you think you can call an event, everything changes. The natural vanilla of the Canadian beer eases in slowly, gradually making way for distinct layers of delicious roasted malts, and even a touch of style-appropriate hops. Canada might be trailing the US in medals this year in Sochi, but here at the Beer Olympics, it is outshining its North American neighbors with consistently elegant complexity.

POINT: Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque

Finish

Belhaven: No matter how dazzling a beer's performance, failing to nail the dismount will relegate that competitor to an eternity in the bodega bargain bin and a lifetime of ridicule from Kerri Strug. Thankfully, Belhaven closes out with a pleasantly bitter aftertaste, but it's not enough to clinch the category.

Young's: Meanwhile, Young's finishes with a slightly sour, bitter quality, reminiscent of a dark chocolate bar. Perhaps due to the lower alcohol content, its conclusion isn't as punchy as this judge would like.

Sierra Nevada: However, Sierra Nevada does not disappoint, with a long, dry finish that makes it difficult to forget. This is one beer that knows how to bring it home.

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel: Dry, bitter and slightly rough around the edges, Brasserie's 6.5 percent ABV creation is obviously the highest gravity of the bunch. Though it tries its best, the Canadians are unable to overtake the Americans this time around.

POINT: Sierra Nevada Stout

What a showing from our four Olympians. Although each showed exceptional fortitude in various aspects, only one managed to best the others in a total of three events: I choose Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque for the win!

Of course, you shouldn't take my word for it. You've been drinking, too, right?... Right? (Don't make me get my funnel.) Leave your comments below and let us know who you've crowned Olympic Stout Champion of the world.

Follow comedian and beer geek Ethan Fixell on Twitter @EthanFixell. Tell us what beers you want in the ring next using #FWx @foodandwine.

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