Puppies and new carpets. Ohio State and Michigan State fans. Kardashians and intelligence. Some things unquestionably just don’t belong together. But stouts and the summertime? Maybe that pair deserves another look.
My “Aha!” moment in craft beer (you know, the moment that makes you say, “Aha! I get it now!”) came three years ago when my friend brought over a bottle of Deschutes’ The Abyss for us to try. Tasting that beer began a love affair not just with craft beer, but with stouts. In the three years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to try some of the greatest stouts in the world and my relationship with them grows stronger all the time. But like any relationship, we have times of trouble, stress and conflict. And those times usually come during the summer.
Every year when the weather gets hot, I find my mind begins to entertain thoughts of more “refreshing” styles. Stouts are my love, but when it’s 90 degrees outside, my mind can’t help but to wander. I just need a little break, I whisper to my beer cellar full of stouts, As soon as the weather cools down, we’ll be together again. I promise. I turn away from them, tears in my eyes, and go to be with my mistresses- the saisons, IPAs and the occasional lambic. But as soon as the temperature drops, I realize the magnitude of my errors and crawl back to my cellar. For three years, things have gone like this. But there may just be hope. I may have just found a summer stout.
I’ve been a fan of Maine Beer Company since I laid eyes on their exceptional amber ale, Zoe, a year ago on a trip to Boston. A lot of beer labels today feel overproduced, and it can get tiring looking at one doomsday themed label after another sometimes. So it was refreshing to see the label for Zoe- a simple smiley face on a plain white backdrop. A few weeks ago, I went back to Boston for my sister’s graduation and I came home with another beer from Maine Beer Company, Mean Old Tom. Just like Zoe, Mean Old Tom’s label is simple- a crudely scrawled frowning face on a plain white label. Even better, the label listed this beer as a “stout aged on natural vanilla beans.”
Mean Old Tom, named after owners David and Daniel Kleban’s beer can-collecting uncle Tom, pours a medium-bodied deep brown color with a sizeable khaki colored head. After first pour, I found the smell to be a bit on the subtle side, but I was able to coax out aromas of roasted malt, dark roasted coffee, powdery cocoa, brownies, oats, a hint of char and some light vanilla. As the beer warmed, the smell opened nicely and I began to pick up some Cocoa Puffs and a bit more of the coffee.
The taste opens with some classic stout flavor- dark roasted coffee and roasted malt. Then the flavor progresses to notes of burnt brownies, milk chocolate and charred wood held together by a strong thread of vanilla. The finish brings some cola, a hint of smoke and dark chocolate. The vanilla flavor in here is out of this world. It creeps among the other flavors in this beer, never really rearing its head and, more importantly, never coming close to feeling artificial.
So now here’s the real test: Is this a summer stout? Well, to me, a summer stout should be a few things
1. Relatively low in alcohol
2. Good with summer food
3. Drinkable no matter what the weather’s like
At a fairly modest 6.5% ABV, I would say Mean Old Tom easily has #1 covered. Sure, that’s not exactly a session beer, but it’s low enough that you can quaff a few of these before truly regretting it. I’d call this category a pass. As far as food pairings for this beer go, I can easily see this beer pairing with just about any kind of grilled red meat (like steak, burgers, kangaroo steaks, etc.). I can definitely see this being a great barbeque beer. And lastly, how is this beer going to hold up once the weather gets warmer? I say pretty well. There are heavier flavors present in Mean Old Tom, but they are held in check really nicely by a lighter mouthfeel and just a touch of prickly carbonation. Overall, this may not be the most exciting stout out there, but it’s really well crafted and a beer I can definitely see being a tasty summer beverage. So maybe there is hope for stouts and the summertime after all, even if there isn’t for Kardashians and intelligence.
Final Grade: A
Top 250 Beers Tasted: 124