I know what you’re thinking, but no, Great Lakes’ Blackout Stout isn’t named after the kind of blackout that comes after you blow through a four-pack of these 9.9% ABV beers. It’s actually named after the Northeast blackout of 2003 that spanned multiple states and two countries, leaving an estimated 55 million people without power, with some in the dark for as long as two weeks. But the beer itself won’t last nearly that long in your fridge as the amalgamation of familiar but complex flavors and aromas makes it obvious why Blackout Stout has won medals in competitions across the country.
It’s pretty easy to see why Great Lakes’ imperial stout would be named after a power blackout—this beer is as deep and inky black as they come. There isn’t much head to speak of, which is a shame because the frothy brown bubbles that cap most stouts are one of my favorite aspects of the style. Blackout Stout’s appearances leaves a little to be desired, but I guess it wouldn’t matter too much if you were drinking it in the dark.
There is a now-defunct beer podcast I love called Drinking with Shirt (hosted by October contributor J.R. Shirt and his brother T-Bone), and one of the hosts swears he smells marshmallow in nearly half the featured beers. Maybe I’m just channeling my inner T-Bone, but I definitely pick up the sweet, vanilla-laden notes of marshmallow pretty heavily in Blackout Stout’s aroma. It’s complemented by roasty char, bitter chocolate, and a little boozy heat for an aroma that pulls me into the glass.
The deft hands at Great Lakes hit a home run with Blackout Stout.”
There’s a lot of flavor to unpack in Blackout Stout. The s’moresy taste of charred marshmallow and chocolate are very present, but it is more like a s’more that subbed burnt chocolate chip cookies for the graham cracker. All that bitter, smoky char does a great job balancing the inherent sweetness of the style, and a punch of hops (50 IBUs) and booze (9.9% ABV) further serve to clean up any residual sugar on the palate. That level of hoppiness isn’t necessarily unique within the style, but the distinct, woodsy quality of the Simcoe hops Great Lakes used in brewing Blackout Stout bring additional depth to an already complex flavor profile.
It’s not hard to see why this beer is so highly acclaimed. Blackout Stout is a case study in how to layer roasty, bitter, and sweet flavors in an imperial stout, and the beer’s trophy case full of gold and silver medals backs that up. Taking away one sense heightens the others, so it seems fitting that a beer named for a power outage would fall short in appearance while turning up your olfactory and taste buds. Whatever the intent, the deft hands at Great Lakes hit a home run with Blackout Stout.