Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Left Hand - Milk Stout Nitro Review

Brewery: Left Hand (CO)
Style: Sweet Stout
ABV: 6%
Grade: B+

Left Hand claims that its milk stout, in new "nitro" carbonated bottles for the first time, is in fact the first American stout ever released in nitro bottles. Left Hand must be doing quite well in general with their Milk Stout, as this new iteration comes with a bold claim printed prominently on each bottle — the slogan "America's Stout." I'm not sure Left Hand is big enough to quite claim this, but their Milk Stout has definitely surged in popularity these last few years, so hey, why not.

Personally, I'm not as swept away by nitrogen carbonation as others seem to be. It's a nice, seldom-seen trick that adds a unique dimension to a beer, and it certainly does compliment the rich, silky flavors of a stout. But I don't think nitro is automatically better than 'regular' carbonation. Just different. There are flavors and sensations I don't remember from the regular ol' Milk Stout coming out of this bottle: that silky, almost tangy mouthfeel, and a body that feels like it's half air. Wait, nevermind, I do understand why nitro stouts are so popular: you still get that roasted stout flavor, but drinking it is like sucking the air out of a balloon. It's nowhere near as filling as it should be; it seems to just glide down your throat. The appearance is lovely, as well — the pour creates that pretty gradient of bubbles cascading throughout, and when that's done, you're left with a thick dirty head that camps out for the entire time the beer is in your glass.

Mouthfeel and appearance aside, I can't help but feel that the flavors are somewhat diminished. Milk Stouts are sweet enough to begin with, and much of the background complexity seems to just drop away, leaving that tangy airy character in its place. There are nice suggestions of chocolate and coffee and roasted malts, but this being a stout and all, I want it to taste heavier. More present. Now, I should have gotten a bottle of the regular Milk Stout to analyze alongside this one. It's been too long for me to really compare them fairly, but I'm inclined to say the nitro version is still a little better, with similar flavors and a better mouthfeel. But overall, I prefer other types of stouts.

If you're looking for a stout that's silky and quaffable and won't weigh you down too much, this is an excellent choice. I'm actually excited about Left Hand's choice to push this as a big, national, flagship beer. It's a good beer, for what it is, and it's in a great position to tackle Guinness by offering a craft-beer substitute that's superior in many ways.

Availability: Just hit the market, but I imagine Left Hand will be making a pretty big push with this one. At the very least, the regular Milk Stout is easy to find. Sixpacks of 12 ounce bottles.

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