Pastry stout, in simplest terms, is an unofficial beer style that takes the sweet, rich, dessert-like side of stout to the extreme. Beyond that, there are no rules. However, for the sake of this tasting, parameters were as follows: Beers must be labeled as stout, include at least two confectionary-inspired adjuncts, and make us lick our lips and crave another sip.
Ingredients in so-called pastry stouts can be as common as coffee, as saccharine as syrup, or as unusual as pasilla pepper. Baking spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla are paramount. Chocolate and cherry make frequent appearances, too. Overall, if it started as a dark, roasty beer and ended tasting like a liquid baked good, calling it a pastry stout is fair game.
VinePair tasted dozens of pastry stouts collected over the course of several months. Below are 10 of our favorites right now, ranked.
Covfefe, a jab at a famous Trump tweet, is brewed with toasted pecans, vanilla beans, cocoa nibs, and coffee. It begins with marshmallow, graham cracker, and cinnamon aromas — “a liquid s’more,” one taster said. Prickly carbonation carries the full-bodied texture deftly across the palate, with coffee and rich umami notes balancing its sweetness. A warming sensation leaves behind bittersweet dark chocolate flavors on the finish.
Inspired by Mexican hot chocolate, Xocoveza (pronounced “choco-veza,” as in “chocolate cerveza”) is an imperial stout made with coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and, yes, chocolate. Full-bodied yet lighter on the palate than others in the category, it brings spicy heat to the pastry stout game. “If you like a peppery Mexican hot chocolate, this is the beer for you,” one panelist said, comparing its recipe to sweeter versions of the style. “If you’re looking for rich chocolate, go with another one.”
Cinnamon, clove, and a minty, “menthol-y” note jump out on the nose of this champurrado-inspired imperial stout. “It’s definitely very chocolatey,” one taster said. A cayenne-like kick adds a touch of heat to the sweet chocolate flavor, while bitter coffee brings balance to the finish.
7. Wiley Roots Wooden Spoon and Whisk: Maple Vanilla Breakfast Scone
Pouring dark, reddish brown with a strong maple syrup aroma, this imperial milk stout — made with maple syrup, vanilla, and milk sugar — is a “maple-glazed confection.” Panelists compared its flavors to Trader Joe’s Maple Leaf Cookies and “boozy pancakes with dark maple syrup — not the runny diner stuff.” This beer definitely pushes the limits, but is “a definite winner in the sweet, strong breakfast beer department,” one taster concluded.
The Bruery’s roasty riff on its fall seasonal Autumn Maple Ale is packed with pastry stout regulars like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla, and maple syrup. It also adds, according to the Bruery, “a whole lot of yams.” Decadent and viscous, it’s right on the verge of being syrupy without tasting too heavy.
Atlanta, Ga. and Virginia Beach, Va.
An outlier for its bright amber color, this self-described “golden pastry stout” is aged in Barbados rum barrels with coffee and cacao. It also stands out for its complex, “counterintuitively refreshing” flavor, as well as its “almost spritzy” mouthfeel, panelists said. Caramel, chocolate, and burnt sugar notes pleasantly mingle on the palate, finishing with delicate coffee flavor.
“Exactly like a chai latte” is how several panelists described this smooth, creamy, chai-spiced milk stout. “Put it in a Starbucks cup, I’d never know the difference,” one panelist said. Floral aromas and baking spice “reminiscent of pumpkin spice” on the silky palate made this beer a crowd-pleaser.
Decadent in every way, this super-boozy, barrel-aged brew has Kentucky bourbon and dried fruit aromas. It also smells, overwhelmingly, of “chocolate-covered cherries.” On the palate, the chocolate is more subdued, akin to powdered milk chocolate. The finish is similar to cherry pie, cooked fruit and all. Our panel agreed, “It has a lot of layers to it.”
Peanut shell and chocolate candy burst from this relatively light-bodied beer. Its lower alcohol, compared to boozier pastry stouts, make it easy to drink. “It tastes like root beer with peanut ice cream,” one taster said. Panelists also agreed it’s “dead-on Reese’s Pieces — the candy, not the cup.”
Bourbon County Café de Olla riffs on the Mexican spiced coffee drink by adding coffee, cassia bark, orange peel, and panela sugar to Bourbon County Stout. Although Bourbon County’s 2019 variants are pretty much stellar across the board, Café de Olla provides a journey of flavors, beginning with coffee bean and citrus peel, and culminating with a hint of cinnamon on the finish. This beer continues to unfold, layer by layer, ounce by ounce. “Share this with multiple people,” one panelist said, adding, “I’d be happy savoring a very small pour.”