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| Booze |

St. Arnold's Winter Stout

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Normally we use the anniversary of some historical event to try to justify what would otherwise be a random beer review each week. But this is current folks, no encyclopedia digging required.

This week, as early as yesterday at some stores and watering holes, our own St. Arnold Brewing Co. is releasing its next seasonal beer, a Winter Stout.

Normally the dark brew would have hit the shelves already, but the brewery turned out extra Christmas Ale this year. The stout will start showing up gradually as stores and bars run out of the holiday variety, said St. Arnold's Lennie Ambrose.

(For history buffs still pining for an anniversary, we're close to the date on which Texas became a state -- December 29, 1845.) Now, to the beer itself.

Ambrose says this variety, which enjoys the shortest run of the brewery's shifting seasonal offerings (about a month), is his favorite. He admits the "stout" label likely scares some people off, but that's a shame, because this brew is awfully smooth, and surprisingly light for a stout.

The alcohol by volume, Ambrose says, is about 6 percent, more than Guinness or Mackeson, but it certainly doesn't feel like it.

The aroma is low-key and subtle, and that carries through into the beer. Too often microbrew stouts give you all chocolate malt in the nose and your brain spends the first quarter of the glass confused by its disappearance after you start drinking. Not so here -- everything is in balance. Want to find the malt flavor, or the hops? They're both there, if you look.

It's not overly roasted or burnt, the way some imperial stouts are. This offering is smooth, creamy, and pleasantly bitter in that, "Ah, a dark beer," sort of way. We suspect some dark beer enthusiasts might even find it a bit too light for their tastes.

Let us address our parting shot to those who claim to enjoy beer but run screaming at anything darker than an Irish red (or who sipped a Guinness once and declared "I don't like dark beers"): This is a good "gateway stout." You should try it.

For those better versed in beer... well, you should too.

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