Great, big, black beers seem to be the most intimidating brews to casual beer drinkers. I’ve brought homebrew in for some of my co-workers on numerous occasions. One such time, one of my co-workers said that she was a little scared to try the Full Moon Stout (a hoppy Imperial stout I made in late 2006).

If my homebrew seemed scary, pouring thick and black and weighing in at a hefty 8.3% alcohol by volume, then two of the beers I sampled this week would be absolutely horrifying.

Avery’s Mephistopheles’ Stout and Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout are two of the strongest Imperial Stouts made. At 16.03% and 18% alcohol by volume, respectively, they make Hump’s Full Moon Stout look downright puny. I like to think that any beer that can make my Full Moon Stout look bulimic by comparison must be the kind of substance that puts hair on chests and causes voices to dip by an octave.

This, as it turned out, was not the case. Despite the photos you see here – an attempt (albeit perhaps weak) to showcase the fright-night aspect of these monstrous beasts – these beers were easily tamed by me and my wife. Her voice is unchanged, and no hair grew on her chest (but if it had, that would have been a truly hellish beer!)

We started with Avery’s rendition. It is the more complex of the two brews. It has such a wide range of flavors that are so tremendous that they probably would make lesser men shudder. Its only weakness: some of the flavors didn’t work harmoniously together. In particular, there was a peculiar funk that I find hard to describe. It had some acidity, but some earthiness, too – almost like a drop of Worcestershire sauce was splashed in the beer. For the most part though, it was a tasty brew that truly lived up to its name.

Tonight, we split the Dogfish Head offering. It was much sweeter and, honestly, a bit more palatable. It wasn’t as complex or decadent as Mephistopheles, but it seemed to work better. Its flavors melded well together. And I certainly don’t mean to suggest to that it is not decadent. Black, chocolaty, sweet, and surging with over 2 ounces of ethanol in each 12 ounce bottle, this brew is for serious contenders only. Despite its slightly greater heft in the alcohol department, it seemed a little smoother. Perhaps this is really the more devilish beer. Supposedly, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And the devil in this beer is a bit better hidden than in Avery’s mega-stout.

The labels wrapped around these bottles provide excellent foreshadowing of what you’ll find lurking inside. The Dogfish Head is simple and unassuming. The Avery teases with demonic pomp. Of the two, it is most appropriate that the Avery bottle displays horns – befitting of the fluid within those dark, glass walls.

Despite having indicated the Dogfish Head beer as the more palatable and despite having given it a higher score at, I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I have great respect for both beers and both brewers. I look forward to nabbing more of both of these beers and seeing how a year or few in the cellar transforms them.

I will leave you with one last parting shot of the two behemoths. This photo happens to be my favorite of this set: