- Mike Riedel
This week, I came across two stouts that couldn't be more different while coming from the same family. One is a boozy, in your face pastry stout, and the other is a locally-made no-alcohol oatmeal stout. This should be fun!
TF Brewing - Fluffier Nuts: This is the much bigger brother to Fluffy Nuts, a pastry stout released earlier this year at 5.0 percent ABV. It poured a nice dark brown, almost black, with a fat two finger mocha head that faded relatively slowly, leaving some spotty lacing and a thin creamy blanket. Aromas of creamy lactose, powdered sugar, chocolate syrup and chocolate chips emerge, with a little bit of hot fudge as well. Peanut butter is pleasant in the background, too, which adds a faint wisp of cookie elements. It's quite the inviting base milk stout; considering the number of peanut butter sandwiches I've eaten over the years, eyes closed, there really is no difference.
Taste is similar to the nose with creamy lactose, though the peanut butter seems lighter than I expected. Similarly, the chocolate flavor isn't quite as chocolaty as it was on the nose; it's there, but definitely with more of a fudge-like thing going on. Flavor-wise, this doesn't deviate too much from the 5 percent version, except everything is turned up to 11. Burnt coffee-like flavor from the roast becomes complimentary to the marshmallow and lactose, and the mouthfeel for this 12.2 percent ale is medium/full with a nicely carbonated, creamy touch of alcohol on the finish.
Overall: Pastry stouts can be quite a lot to handle. This one isn't too chewy and in-your-face; the marshmallow aspects can, however, add some candy-like qualities. At the end of the day, this really isn't trying to mimic anything confection-wise. It's just a little bit of peanut butter and chocolate that'll kick you in the ass if you're not careful.
Toasted Barrel - Untoasted Non-Alcoholic Stout: Pours a deep coffee brown with about a half-inch of tan head that has fair retention and leaves a nice lacing on the glass, with healthy visible carbonation at the edges where the light strikes through. Very nice aroma on this one; roasted malts and coffee are the most prominent notes. There's also some nice dark chocolate and vanilla coming through, followed by a bit of earthiness and no boozy aroma in the mix.
Roasted malts are big up front. They're accompanied by a rich coffee flavor, as well as some of that dark chocolate from the nose. In the middle, the vanilla emerges, along with a bit of tartness and earthiness. The back end features more of the coffee and chocolate notes, with the tartness developing into a more overt bitterness which works quite well with the dark chocolate flavor. Yet even though there is bitterness, there isn't much of a lingering aftertaste; it's really more of an astringent sensation. Light-bodied and quite creamy, thanks in part to a nice level of carbonation, this one isn't syrupy, but it does have just a bit of stick.
Overall: I don't drink a lot of no-alcohol beers, but the next time I need to stay sober while still looking like one of the cool kids, I'm definitely reaching for one of these. It's the best "near beer" I've ever had.
You'd think that Fluffier Nuts would walk away as the clear taste winner, and you might be right. But there's something about a flavorful non-alcoholic beer that excites me and gives me hope that this woefully underrepresented segment of the craft beer market might actually have some decent options. As always, cheers!