Ah spring, the time to shed our winter coats and celebrate all things light and airy. While this can include beers, we respectfully posit that most breweries release their signature stouts around this time too, which are a much more beauteous thing to behold. We were fortunate enough to get a couple of bottles of the infamous Kentucky Breakfast Stout as well as a couple of Bourbon County, which we were able to compare to some bottles from Italian brewer Brewfist to see how the Americans stack up with some European counterparts. While we're still chanting USA! USA! USA! we're happy to report that the Italians held their own in a category traditionally dominated by big, bold American styles.
Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (11.2% ABV)
This was Red's favorite and it's easy to see why people lose their sh*t over this beer when it's released every year. With burnt sugar, vanilla, bourbon, and coffee notes on the nose it's almost as pleasant to sniff as it is to drink. Almost. The taste hits on bourbon, baking cocoa, caramel, and espresso with a nice malty finish. You can age this one for a few years but good luck keeping it around that long.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout (13.8% ABV)
You need to be sitting down for this one, not just for enjoyment and relaxation, but for your own safety. Clocking in at a heavy ABV over 13% you'll know when you've finished a bottle. The nose is very bourbon forward but sweetly so, which gives way to chocolate, vanilla, and toasted malts. Taking your first sip is like drinking chocolate birthday cake with a bourbon coconut frosting, chased with a shot of bourbon. It's delicious and the flavor becomes more fudge-y as the beer warms a bit. The sweetness and high ABV make this a sipper, but you're unlikely to need more than one anyway. Sharing is highly recommended.
Brewfist/Prairie Artisan Ales Spaghetti Western Imperial Chocolate Coffee Stout (8.7% ABV)
We picked both Brewfist bottles up at Birra Piu in Rome (which you should definitely visit if your travels ever take you to the city) and were not disappointed. This collaboration with Prairie Artisan Ales was a little drier than the other stouts we tried. The nose was very earthy, with a strong coffee backbone and some good toasted notes. The taste leaned more towards coffee than chocolate (which was more baking chocolate than sweet) and had some almost red wine-like stone fruit flavor in the background. A solid offering, but a very different style than the KBS and Bourbon County.
Brewfist Spaghetti Western Grappa Barrel Stout (8.7% ABV)
This one was very unique. We're not huge fans of grappa on it's own, but aging a stout in grappa barrels yielded an almost wine-like hybrid. Grape must was very apparent in the smell, along with a yeasty note not often associated with stouts, and some more expected hints baking chocolate and minerals. The taste was unsweetened chocolate with more grape must and a slightly sour finish. Though this is another one that would be tough to drink multiple bottles, it was an oddly quenching foil to the heavier American brews. If you can find a bottle through trades or international travel, it's definitely worth a try.