Stout Choices

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, which has 12 locations in the Northeast, hosts an annual Steak & Stout event to promote the seasonal availability of its Russian Imperial Stout.
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, which has 12 locations in the Northeast, hosts an annual Steak & Stout event to promote the seasonal availability of its Russian Imperial Stout. Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

Winter’s chill brings out the best in dark beers and restaurants touting hearty menu pairings.

While hops and IPAs in their myriad forms remain a huge part of consumer interest right now, there continue to be both year-round and seasonal audiences for dark beers, and stouts in particular. That interest is piqued even more when the selection is a little harder to come by. Bringing guests’ attention around to these beers will generally be best rewarded in the cooler months, and the current craft beer boom means there are an increasingly wide number of different-volume stouts to choose from. In event planning and beer-dinner themes, slotting stouts in the winter can keep things fresh.

At the World of Beer location on Dr. Phillips Boulevard in Orlando, Florida, the full-service restaurant recently hosted its second annual Stout Out to highlight the darker side of the beer spectrum. “This is the time of the year where a lot of the seasonal stouts come out, typically between November and March,” says Zach Carter, the location’s director of operations. “You’re getting into the cold months, where everyone’s coming out with their different rare or seasonal, or once-a-year stouts. So what we did was put them together to have an event.” Voilà: the Stout Out.

For them, it’s a combination of both customer interest and beer availability. “In the summer, obviously, you don’t want to sit on the patio and drink a really heavy stout,” Carter notes. “I mean, some people might, but you just don’t think of that in the summer.” Sourcing higher-ABV, limited-release options that are likely to help draw a crowd for an event like Stout Out is easier in the winter months, though the restaurant also sets aside kegs months in advance, particularly beers that can age. (Stouts tend to be more forgiving here than hoppier styles.)

Seasonal availability of different stout options will definitely vary depending upon geography and distribution, with cooler parts of the country, generally speaking, being a bit more likely to have higher-alcohol, year-round stout options. For restaurants in a similar situation to this World of Beer spot in the temperate Sunshine State, smartly sourcing crowd-drawing beer in advance can help.

The latest Stout Out had around a dozen draft examples, including Marshal Zhukov Russian Imperial Stout from Cigar City and two rare offerings from Funky Buddha Brewery. These are basically two of the hottest breweries in Florida right now, along with Cycle and J. Wakefield breweries.

The format of Stout Out is pay as you go, with various sampler flights being offered as well. The bulk of promotion for the event was through in-house marketing efforts and social media, and it did a nice job of positioning the restaurant’s bourbon-barrel event that was two weeks later—also featuring mostly stouts.

“Barrel-aging is huge right now,” Carter says. He points to more impactful flavor profiles in general as being major points of interest for the consumer as of late, and the variety of stouts in the marketplace has never been higher. For instance, some of the special flavor profiles that come to mind include coffee, chocolate, oyster, oatmeal, vanilla, salt, caramel, chili pepper, pretzel, cinnamon, kaffir lime leaf, coconut, and graham cracker—and pairing opportunities can vary nicely.


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