As the proverb goes: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” But with the rise in popularity of pastry stouts, now you can drink it.
Simply put, pastry stouts are sweet, rich, over-the-top dark beers fashioned after desserts, flavored to taste like liquid cakes, cookies, and candy bars. It’s a substyle of imperial stout that showcases ingredients and parlance much more commonplace around a bakery than a brewery, but similar to the fanfare surrounding hazy IPAs, their adoration among beer lovers is undeniable.
Paramount to the pastry stout’s constitution is the heavy presence of adjuncts that help realize their confectionery ambitions. We’re talking additions, typically in large quantities, of chocolate, coconut, vanilla, bananas, cinnamon, and marshmallows, among others. The number and combinations of such extras will vary depending on the muse, but you can always expect a thick, sweet, high-alcohol, dessert-like beer as the end result.
Sure, imperial stouts have incorporated these kinds of ingredients for years now. But before, they were largely employed as accents, their role to meld with the style’s inherent flavors. The rise of pastry stouts has seen their purveyors swat away all notions of subtlety and push the envelope, and then dip the envelope in chocolate and toasted coconut flakes, all while exuding a great sense of fun and adventure. That’s evident even in the names of these brazen brews, which often boast of their sugar-smacked makeup: Double Stuffed Oreo Fudge Bucket. Icing On the Cake. Maple Truffle Ice Cream Waffle. Midnight Fluff.
So what are some of the style’s best examples? We asked 14 brewers (a baker’s dozen, plus one!) around the country to opine on what pastry stout takes the cake.
The Best Pastry Stouts Recommended by Brewers:
- Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation
- Ingenious Blueberry Crumble Milk Stout
- Maplewood Morbidly Obese Pug: Extra Fudge
- Angry Chair Imperial German Chocolate Cupcake Stout
- 3 Sons Scoop
- The Eighth State Different the Same
- Angry Chair Geiger Imperial Salted Chocolate Sweet Stout
- RaR 10 Layers
- Forager Nillerzzzzz
- J. Wakefield Nanner Hammock
- Burial Skillet Donut Stout
- Mile Wide Frivolous Ideation (Series)
- North Park Double Barrel Mostra Before Dying
- Bluejacket Mexican Radio
Keep reading for details about all the recommended pastry stout beers!
“Bottle Logic’s Fundamental Observation showcases one of the best uses of vanilla in brewing, in my opinion. Vanilla is super hard to pull off, especially using whole beans with prices sky high, and the high usage you need to really break through the thick base of a pastry stout. Bottle Logic uses it exceptionally in this bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout, and paved the way for so many in the pastry style.” — Matthew Garcia, Founder, Homage Brewing, Pomona, Calif.
“Ingenious sent us its Blueberry Crumble milk stout for our FML fest and, although I don’t often choose a hefty pastry stout, this one is perfectly balanced. The combination of blueberry and subtle cinnamon on the nose, with dark chocolate sweetness on the backend, makes it a delicious dessert beer.” — Rachel Edwards, Head Brewer, Oozlefinch Beers & Blending, Fort Monroe, Va.
“I recently had Maplewood’s Morbidly Obese Pug: Extra Fudge, made with two types of chocolate, vanilla, and lactose, and felt I could have at least a few cans to myself. Head brewer Adam Cieslak’s Fat Pug oatmeal stout and Morbidly Obese Pug double milk stout are both great, and here I get deeper chocolate fudge flavor. It’s well balanced, not overly sweet, yet still rich with lots of chocolate flavor.“ — Paul Garza, Brewer, Wild Onion Brewery, Lake Barrington, Ill.
“Few breweries do pastry stouts better, and have just as sweet people brewing them, than Angry Chair. The coffee variant of Imperial German Chocolate Cupcake Stout is a personal favorite. The base beer is so damn luscious and drips with sextra-sticky chocolate, vanilla, toasted coconut, and coffee, all in perfect proportions. I almost get a hint of cinnamon on the finish, too. A gem from a pastry OG.” — James Massey, Owner and Head Brewer, Two Tides Brewing Company, Savannah, Ga.
“I first met Corey Artanis in 2016, when we joined a group of mutual friends to spend the weekend in Indiana at 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord Day. I had heard a ton of praise about Corey and his brewery, 3 Sons, as he was just coming off the second straight year of winning both best beer and best brewery awards at Cigar City’s big annual Hunuhpu’s Day fest. Later that year, I tasted his Neapolitan ice cream-flavored imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels, Scoop. At the time, it was one of my first experiences tasting what was being labeled as a pastry stout, and it was just so unique. The vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors each showed up on the taste, finishing with oak on the backend. One of my favorite examples of the style, to this day.“ —Jason Stein, Founder and Brewer, Timber Ales, New York
“Different the Same, made recently by The Eighth State for its second anniversary. I enjoyed a number of the South Carolina brewery’s lush, dark elixirs at the Altered States rare-beer event it held last year; it was clear brewer Cameron Owens is putting out some next-level stuff. A mutual friend recently shared a bottle of this imperial stout with toasted coconut and three types of vanilla and, just, wow. I’m a sucker for coconut and this was chock full of it. Rounded out by decadent vanilla without being cloying, but still leaving room for the thick-bodied base to shine through with notes of rich dark chocolate and caramel. Incredibly well executed, and just talking about it has me dreaming of more.” — Bob Olson, Founder and Owner, Bolero Snort Brewery, Carlstadt, N.J.
“When I drink a pastry stout, I‘m looking for balance. A well-done example should still be drinkable even with sweet adjuncts and a double-digit ABV. I have always appreciated the beers and specifically the pastry stouts coming from Angry Chair in Tampa. I recently shared a bottle of Geiger’s Imperial Salted Chocolate Sweet Stout and was pleased with the balance the salt provided to the beer’s sweetness. The mouthfeel was rich with strong notes of chocolate and toffee. I love sea salt and caramel chocolates, and this pastry stout embodies all those flavors while still tasting like a beer. Even on a hot Florida day, I still wanted more.” — David Kant-Rauch, Lead Brewer, Proof Brewing Company, Tallahassee, Fla.
“I enjoy drinking pastry stouts as beer-for-dessert, and I love the 10 Layers, and all of its decadent forms, from RaR in Cambridge, Md. 10 Layers is full of chocolate flavor, and variants add mint, peanut butter, and vanilla to [the] deep chocolatey goodness. It’s the perfect beer for a decadent, indulgent nightcap. I especially love the version aged in Pinot Noir barrels, which drinks like Black Forest cake, with rich chocolate melded to jammy, red fruit notes. Plus, as a Maryland girl, this stout’s inspiration being the state’s official dessert, the Smith Island cake, brings me back to special celebrations and beach-side holiday cake walks in all the most delicious ways.” — Caiti Sullivan, Brewer, Dancing Gnome Beer, Pittsburgh
“I’ve had most, if not all, years and variants of Forager’s Nillerzzzzz, and in my opinion it’s consistently been among the most beautiful and complex barrel-aged stouts. The blend of bourbon and rye whiskey barrels, and various types of vanilla beans used, really make this shredder shine. It provides endless waves of barrel and vanilla notes with each sip, and has the perfect thick body that many brewers producing the pastry style strive for.” — Tim Johnson, Head Brewer, Barrel Theory Beer Company, St. Paul, Minn.
“When it comes to pastry stouts, there are a handful of breweries around the country that you know are ALWAYS going to kill it, and suffice it to say, J. Wakefield is one of those. It’s always exciting to see what the Miami brewery is going to try next. The craft that goes into bringing flavors to life really is art, and the Wakefield team is truly the gold standard for pastry stouts, and stouts in general, in my book. Nanner Hammock is a banana pudding-inspired imperial stout brewed with bananas, lactose, vanilla wafers, and Tahitian vanilla beans. As much as I have come to enjoy and rely on owner John Wakefield and head brewer Maria Cabre’s expert banana technique in anything they do, I was most pleased with the vanilla wafers enjoying equal billing in this brew, as they were my favorite snack growing up. The vanilla flavor brings a creaminess that mellows the banana and the lactose, giving it a rich body that screams pudding. As it warmed it got better and better. If you can get a hold of this one on the secondary market I’d highly recommend it.” Josh Peña, Co-owner, Isla Street Brewing, San Antonio, Texas
“It was just dumb luck that my first visit to Burial back in 2014 was the day before the first bottle release of Skillet donut stout, probably before ‘pastry stout’ was even a term. The description of a donut stout was confusing and intriguing, but the beer just blew me away: an incredible complexity of coffee, chocolate, dark fruits, and this note of icing or glaze that brought it all together as a liquid donut. It definitely changed the way I looked at what stouts could be, and I always go back to it when thinking about pastry stouts.” — Nate Darnell, Head Brewer and General Manager, Ferus Artisan Ales, Trussville, Ala.
“My buddies at Mile Wide in Louisville, Ky., have started a pastry-stout series titled Frivolous Ideation, and have deftly found the balance between the finesse of brewing and the ridiculous over-the-top nature of these types of beers. The first one incorporated hazelnut, coffee, and chocolate into a decadent dessert in a glass. The second release was their spin on a s’mores, and really hit those good vibes that come with hanging around the campfire with friends and making the dessert. Who knows what will be next in the series, but you can always count on Mile Wide to put out well-thought-out and well-executed beers.” — Jared Williamson, Lead Brewer, Schlafly Beer, St. Louis
“The best pastry stout I’ve ever tasted, excluding our beers and collaborations, has to be North Park’s Double Barrel Mostra Before Dying. This started as an existing imperial stout that had been aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for 18 months before being transferred to a fresh Heaven Hill bourbon barrel with a prior batch for an additional nine months. Then, it was treated with Mexican vanilla beans, toasted and shredded coconut, and Mostra coffee. The layers of flavor on this beer were insane! The bourbon barrels are the first taste you experience followed by marshmallow-like vanilla, creamy coconut, and chocolaty coffee. It’s no surprise the coffee flavors were on point. Mostra was recently named the world’s micro roaster of the year by Roast Magazine and was started six years ago by one of my best friends, Mike Arquines, and his business partners. Back in 2013 I was the first to use their coffee in a beer when I was homebrewing on the weekends while professionally brewing on weekdays. From there, I introduced them to a few local breweries due to the high quality of their beans. Double Barrel’s heavy mouthfeel keeps these flavors on your palate as they evolve seconds after your sip. The beer isn’t too sweet and is the perfect showcase of how a brewer can use extra ingredients to take a beer to the highest level of its style.” — Derek Gallanosa, Partner and Head Brewer, Moksa Brewing Co., Rocklin, Calif.
“When we started making Gingerbread Stout almost 10 years ago, pastry stouts weren’t really a thing. But over the past several years, quite a few really good ones have hit the market. It’s hard to choose one, but I’m a big fan of Bluejacket‘s Mexican Radio. It has all these great flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate working in perfect harmony, with a nice kick of pepper in the finish. The key to a good pastry stout is creating balance and synergy between the various adjuncts used. It should be sweet but not overly so. You’re never going to drink a 6-pack of pastry stouts but you want to be able to have a second. Mexican Radio hits that mark for me.“ — Patrick Murtaugh, Co-founder and Brewmaster, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, Richmond, Va.
Published: October 22, 2020