The first stop was Rock Bottom in King of Prussia, Penn., where Brian McConnell had a Mad Cow Milk Stout on. He had it on two ways, actually: nitro tap, and cask, which made me wonder about why it is that The Geekerie loves nitro-tap stouts and shuns other beers, like IPA, on nitro. You'd think that stout was designated by God Almighty as The One True Nitro Beer, but I've had very good nitro dispense of hoppy pale ales. "It just accentuates the malt," Brian agreed, "it's just another way to serve a beer." Funny, but there you are. I had the cask (that's Shawn the bartender pulling the booger), and Brian gave me a sample of the push stout: two very different jars. Neither one sickly sweet, as you might expect from a milk stout, but rather medium-rich, dryly sweet, and damned drinkable. Bill Moore of Lancaster Brewing was also there, it was a pleasant session and we gossiped a bit, but then I had to push on.
Next stop was Sly Fox Phoenixville, where I met up with Jack Curtin. Jack had decided to pass on The Session, he thought the whole idea was "kinda hinky." I told him the last time I'd heard anyone use that word was in The Fugitive, and that characters in the film made fun of the guy who used it then, too. As Jack babbled on, I ordered a pint of O'Reilly's Stout, the delicious Irish dry stout of the house. Corey poured me a beautiful pint -- he's the guy standing behind the beautiful pint. It had plenty of dry roast, lots of flavor, pretty much blows Guinness out of the water without being insistent or strident about it. I love this beer, because it got me through the first five months of Weight Watchers: ounce for ounce, it's the same "points" as light beer.
Guinness is iconic, but there are other stouts just as good. Why do so many folks choose Guinness? Habit, honest preference, lack of experience? There's an "Irish" pub in Philly, McGillin's, that does not serve Guinness for personal reasons. They have several other stouts, and they seem to do a roaring business.
I took the opportunity to sample draft Incubus, Sly Fox's tripel (not, as I originally wrote, the quadrupel; that's Ichor -- sorry), that is only on draft the first Friday of each month: Incubus Friday. It was a new batch, and bursting with fruity esters and rich malt, a delicious aperitif beer, and perfect for the day, a gorgeous preview of Spring I'd been enjoying through the drive.
Last stop: Victory, for a small glass of Storm King Imperial Stout. This was easily the blackest of the three, heavy, rich, aggressive stuff, but not an angry beer, or a forceful beer. Storm King is a hearty beer, full-bodied and certain, not looking to knock you out, but maybe to knock you over. It's hard to pound -- and why would you want to?
Storm King made me look back at the stouts I'd had, and all the stouts that are out there, and the stouts I'd read that other bloggers would be sampling. I realized that this is a continuum, that stout embraces session beers, extreme beers (Dogfish Head World Wide Stout certainly qualifies), dessert beers, hoppy beers (black IPA, anyone?), mild and malty beers... There is no definite "stout," not even Guinness can claim that, with so many different versions of itself around.
I love stouts and porters, in a large part because of this malleability of form. They're dark ales (and sometimes lagers!), yet they have enough in common to be recognizable as brethren. The Brotherhood of Stout (women welcome, too).