Cooking and beer go rather well together. Both, it turns out, as an ingredient, and as a companion. You know those late weekend mornings spent with friends confiting duck legs and soaking Tarbais beans for a many-hours-away dinner (hopefully that's not just us)? Well even if you aren't adding beer to your cassoulet — you shouldn't — it's sometimes not a bad idea to knock back a few beers with your companions while you're chopping away your morning. In such instances, you don't need to double-fist a macchiato with your IPA. This, we have found, is a good time to find a beverage which simultaneously combines alcohol and caffeine. But as we do not endorse Four Loko, this week's food fight pits two far better, and darker, drinks against each other: Alesmith Speedway Stout, and Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti.

Both beers are imperial stouts, so you can expect a higher alcohol content, a lower carbonation, and plenty of dark, malty, toasted characteristics. The Speedway, from San Diego, can be found in many local markets year-round (like Whole Foods), and clocks in at a whopping 12% ABV. It is brewed with coffee beans, giving it that nice caffeine boost, and pours into the glass with very little head. Surprisingly though, it is a smooth, dry, and very light drinking beer, all things considered.

Yeti and Speedway, in glasses; Credit: N. Galuten

Yeti and Speedway, in glasses; Credit: N. Galuten

The Espresso Yeti, meanwhile, is a creamier, thicker thing. It is heavier, has more texture in the mouth, and pours with a thick layer of crema-like foam. This Denver-brewed stout is seasonal — available only from January to April — and can be fairly difficult to find in bottles, though we managed to come across plenty at K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood last week. It is not as strong as Speedway (a “mere” 9.5%), but is actually a heavier drink. According to the bottle, the recommended food pairings are, “breakfast burrito, eggs Benedict, hash browns, cheesecake, crème brûlée.” So they seem to think it works well in the morning too.

Both are, we must say, very good beers. They are both pitch black, chocolatey, and have a strong roasted quality. The difference between them, ultimately, is much like the difference between coffee and espresso. The coffee stout is an easier drink, capable of being sipped on for long periods of time; while the espresso stout works better in short, concentrated bursts. So the better beer, one could argue, is wholly dependent on what sort of mood you're in. After a heavy Italian meal? Perhaps a small glass of Espresso Yeti. During a leisurely afternoon? Probably the Speedway.

But for us, the Speedway Stout is the more versatile beer, the more surprising one, and in the end, also more enjoyable. Fortunately for us all, it also the most readily available. You may still need to take a nap at some point after drinking it, but when you wake up, it will almost be time for dinner.

LA Weekly