You know why I love living in Southern California? Well, there’s a plenitude of reasons, but particularly high on my list is that there’s no shortage of great locally made craft beer available all year round. Sure, beer is especially popular in the summertime, but I for one, think of it as evergreen, which is why I’ll be braving our torturously frigid 60° SoCal winter with two of my favorite beer styles perfectly suited for the season: delightfully dark porters and stouts.
Before explaining why, I suppose a small trip back in time is in order, to properly explain what each of those styles actually is. The histories of both are inextricably linked, finding their roots in 18th century London. Brewers at the time began aging the popular brown beer they were producing, allowing it to mature in large casks for anywhere from six to eighteen months. The resulting drink balanced complex flavor and refreshment, with a formidable alcohol level to boot, all of which made it understandably popular, especially with a class of laborers that drank it rather frequently: porters. Hence the name.
Brewers, aiming to continue riding the wave of interest that their porters had generated, crafted even stronger versions dubbed “stout porters” to reflect their fuller, creamier body and heightened alcohol levels. Over time, the name has been shortened to simply “stout,” but the idea largely remains the same.
Victor Macias, a 13-year veteran of the Culver City homebrew club Pacific Gravity, offered his description of what he’d consider to be a hallmark example of a porter: “Deep ruby-reddish brown, with a malty-sweet aroma akin to chocolaty caramel. Rich and flavorful, but never heavy or overly hoppy. It’s something I can have a couple of without feeling too weighed down.“
However, his feelings on a perfect stout aren’t nearly as moderate. “I want my stouts black as night, with an aroma reminiscent of darkly-roasted coffee and ripe fruit. Add in a touch of smoke, a slight scent of alcohol, and blend it all into something viscous that’s going to coat my enamel.”
So, why my assertion that these burly brews are just what the doctor ordered this time of year? “It’s the season of cool nights and fireplaces,” asserts Rob Croxall, President of the recently-founded El Segundo Brewing Company “A more substantial beer mimicking the smokiness of the season is just the right thing to sit back and savor, or send you off to a slumber.”
Macias concurs. “The dark color, the richness, the complexity of these beers… there’s sort of a warming quality to it all that makes porters and stouts perfect for winter.” Speaking of warming, if you’re imagining a frosty mug straight from the freezer filled with an ice cold beer and still failing to see the appeal, rid your mind of such thoughts at once! The intricacies and nuances of flavor and aroma afforded by these heavier beers are best appreciated when allowed to warm ever so slightly. I always like to take mine out of the fridge a good 20-30 minutes before diving in.
“Both styles have bold flavor profiles that lend themselves to heartier cooking,” explains Croxall. “If I have a really good porter, I like to pair it up with a dry-aged rib eye, crusted with a really good coarse, smoked sea salt. Add a side of simply roasted root vegetables to really make the whole winter combo sing.”
El Segundo Brewing’s newest beer, an amped up style of stout called an imperial stout, lends itself especially well to sweets. “For a big stout, one of my favorite pairings is a warm chocolate bread pudding.” Croxall contends, “On paper, it seems overwhelming, but the two pair complement each other amazingly. You get the depth and richness of the chocolate in both. Err on the side of small quantities of each and enjoy the ride.”
Macias makes a suggestion of a similar vein: “Go with French Vanilla Ice Cream! The cool and sweet creaminess with a heavy black stout poured over the top is tough to beat. Beer floats, anyone?” Maybe not the first thing I’d think of in the thick of winter, but given the temperate nature of our SoCal “seasons,” count me in! Looks like I’ve got another item to add to my list of reasons to love living here.
Cheers to that!
Randy Clemens is the author of The Sriracha Cookbook and The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.: Liquid Lore, Epic Recipes, and Unabashed Arrogance. He is also the Public Relations Coordinator for Stone Brewing Co. Follow his musings on Twitter: @RandyClemensEsq.
PORTERS: Roasted meats and vegetables, sausage, mushroom risotto, Alpine cheeses such as Gruyère or Emmentaler, French onion soup, pumpkin ravioli
STOUTS: Shepherd’s pie, foie gras, dark chocolate truffles, vanilla ice cream, and several cheeses including Gorgonzola, aged Gouda, or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Local porters and stouts recommended by
Victor Macias and Rob Croxall:
- Old Viscosity (Port Brewing)
- Victory at Sea (Ballast Point)
- Odin’s Raven (Alpine)
- Velvet Glove (Iron Fist)
- Double Stout (Green Flash)
- Stone Imperial Russian Stout (Stone Brewing)
- Speedway Stout (AleSmith)
- Walker’s Reserve Porter (Firestone Walker)