Large, maskless gatherings that revolve around alcohol are still in our distant future. But there's one party that isn't canceled: Stout Month.
Every February, dozens of breweries and bottle shops across the state host festivals, guided tastings and seminars dedicated to the jet-black beer. While the pandemic has put those activities on hold, a number of producers are moving forward with altered celebrations.
Leading the way is Fort George Brewery, which typically holds the Festival of the Dark Arts in mid-February, considered by most to be the highlight. But the Astoria-based business will not let a Stout Month pass without honoring its favorite style. Fort George is instead rolling out a number of new dark beers that customers can either drink while physically distanced on its patio or order online to enjoy their tasting session at home.
That will include the annual release of Matryoshka, a strong Russian imperial stout that's aged for one year in wooden vessels—the 2021 batches sat primarily in Buffalo Trace Bourbon and Westward Whiskey barrels, with a few in Jamacian rum barrels.
There are multiple variations to sample side by side, some with fruit, or chocolate, or both, for instance. But the beer's notes of charred oak should blend well with the flavors imparted by the boldest of the bunch, which features an entire spice rack of adjuncts.
"We used a mix of Madagascar, Tahitian, Papua New Guinea, and Ugandan vanilla beans for the whiskey and bourbon variations," Fort George barrel master Dave Coyne said in a press release. "Some are fruitier, some are sweeter, and combined they give a very rounded vanilla profile. We stacked cocoa nibs, cinnamon, and finally raspberries on top of the vanilla."
Matryoshka sales start online Feb. 1 for Mug Club members and the beer can then be picked up or shipped to addresses in Oregon and Washington five days later. Access then opens to the general public on Feb. 8 with pickup or shipping beginning Feb 13.
Just in time for Stout Month is the debut of one of Oregon's best-known stouts in cans. Black Butte Porter, the beer that put Deschutes Brewery on the map more than three decades ago, has only been available in bottles or on draft, but that will change next month. The brewery is releasing Black Butte as well as another classic, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, in new packaging.
Longtime fans of Deschutes will also notice the retro design of new labeling on both cans and bottles. The throwback to the brewery's early years is its way of wrapping customers in a warm, fuzzy blanket during troubling times. The chaos of the pandemic has stoked our desire for nostalgia, so why not immerse yourself in the comforting aesthetics and flavors of the late '80s, early '90s for a while?
"Tapping into some familiarity was definitely a part of our approach as we navigated 2020," Deschutes marketing director, Stacey Payne, tells WW. "We asked our fans on social media to weigh in on which label resonated with them the most, and the response was incredible—so many great memories are associated with these brands— and we're excited to bring back the good times as we move forward in 2021."
However, those looking to break up the monotony of this winter with something a little less traditional for Stout Month should look to Yachats Brewing, which recently began distributing the fourth annual installment of its Smoked Oyster Stout.
The central coast brewery teamed up with Portland's Flying Fish Company and Puget Sound-based Hama Hama Oysters on this year's batch.
If you're curious about how, exactly, they made a beer using smoked oysters, crushed shells and squid ink, there's a behind-the-scenes video, produced pre-COVID, of the collaboration that you can watch while you sip. The Smoked Oyster Stout is available on tap or in cans at Flying Fish.