Stouts (and porters) are the victim of a psychosomatic epidemic. Before people ever have one, they’re told a single pint will sit in their stomach like a brick or a loaf of bread or a full meal, and that the beer won’t be as refreshing as a crisp lager or sessionable IPA. Then, since that’s what they expect, their body runs right to the overactive parts of the brain that are susceptible to placebos. It also means people generally avoid the style during the hotter months, which I find upsetting, if only because they’re missing out on four months they could be drinking a great style that pairs just as well with summer barbecue foods as it does hearty winter meals.
There are two things you want to avoid in a stout in the summer. First, avoid flavors or additions that increase the body of the beer, like coffee or lactose, though when it comes to the latter that isn’t a hard and fast rule. Second, and related to the first, stay away from imperial stouts. Unless the brewers were dumping straight sugar into the kettle, higher alcohol content means more grain was used to make the beer, which means there’s a hell of a lot more weight to your pint. Plus, when that higher ABV hits your bloodstream, it’ll do the same thing it does to make you feel cozy in the winter. Only this time of year, it’s hot and you’re sweating.
A good summer stout hovers between four and six percent, sits nice and light on your tongue and in your stomach, and, above all, keeps you coming back to the cooler.
The Best Summer Stouts and Porters
Love Stout | Yards Brewing
I haven’t been seeing Love stout nearly as often as I used to. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of what beer styles are most popular in the broader market or if other breweries have overtaken Yards a bit in my area. It’s a shame because it was one of my gateway beers into craft beer. Even now, I’d consider it a foundational beer for American craft brewing. There’s nothing drastic about it, with the roast, malt, and hops all balanced well against each other. It’s also one of the few American stouts that’s put on nitro, which significantly lightens up and smooths out a stout and makes it perfect for nights out on your favorite patio bar.
Sunset Eclipse | Dewey Beer Co.
I was excited to find out Dewey is distributing much wider than I originally thought, which means I’m not recommending some deep cut beer that you have to actually come to Delaware to get, but something that’s fairly readily available, at least in our surrounding states. Dewey mostly puts out fruited sours and IPAs, so it was a nice surprise to see cans of this in their fridge. It was an even nicer surprise that the beer inside instantly became one of my favorites.
Sunset Eclipse has a ton of roast to it without any of the astringency you’d usually find. There’s also a really good malty sweetness, likely a product of the beer avoiding the astringency that would usually cover it up. Really, it struck me as very similar to the extra stout made by O’Hara’s, which is about the best compliment I can give an American-made stout.
Porter | Bell’s Brewery
Bell’s excels at making beers that are archetypal for the style. There’s nothing experimental, challenging, or weird about their year-round offerings. Each one tastes exactly like it’s supposed to. In case that makes their beer sound boring, let me say that it’s a massive compliment. In pretty much every beer you’ll ever have, there’s some kind of off flavor or a little quirk of the head brewer’s own preferences. With Bell’s, what’s written on the outside of the bottle is exactly what’s inside the bottle. Put another way, if you’re trying to figure out if you like stouts and porters, drink one of these. If you like it, great, start looking for more. If not, you’d probably be best moving on.
Black Butte Porter | Deschutes Brewery
Black Butte comes from when American brewing was really just shaking off Prohibition’s political and cultural hangover. It’s one of the first beers Deschutes released back in the late 80s and has been a mainstay in the industry. I’m also talking about it like I’ve been following it the whole time. I haven’t. I just grabbed a six pack at Costco on a whim a few weeks ago and am upset it’s taken me so long to find it, so I’m overcompensating with my insistence that my friends at least try the beer. I wouldn’t call this one a summer day sipper as it is a little intense with the roast and is a tad on the filling side. I’d say it’s much better suited to evenings and nights, especially if the preceding day was spent doing something intensive in the woods or on a lake.
Milk Stout | Left Hand Brewing
I’ve had a lot of milk stouts and enjoyed most of them, but a common feature in them all is that I could only really drink one or two, regardless of the ABV. Kind of like how if you load up on milk at dinner, you’re too full to actually eat anything. But the lactose in Left Hand’s milk stout must be added with an exceptionally light hand, because I can drink a six pack and still have room for food. More than anything else, at least to my own palate, the lactose here rounds out the malt sweetness without messing too much with the weight of the beer while also avoiding flavors akin to overly creamy and sugary iced coffee.
Edmund Fitzgerald Porter | Great Lakes Brewing
Great Lakes can always be relied on to deliver stylistically accurate beers. In the Edmund Fitzgerald’s case, it sits squarely in the American porter tradition, with higher hop content and a noticeable astringency from the roasted grain. Where I hope the other picks on this list have a broad appeal, I think the Edmund Fitzgerald is a little more situationally dependent. I might not suggest it as a casual tailgate beer or afternoon sipper. Instead, I’d say it’s best enjoyed alongside a fairly intense barbecue, washing down brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, and any other meat you’ve spent hours cooking.Learn More