With St.Patrick’s day festivities just around the corner, I cannot think of a more appropriate time to write a stout style guide. No other beer style is personified by a single beer, or rather a single brewery as much as stout.
Stout popularity was achieved nearly single handedly by one man, Arthur Guinness. The name Guinness, as relevant to the beer world, first emerged in 1759 when Arthur Guinness leased a defunct brewery in Dublin. Although Guinness attempted several ales in their early days, they soon decided to focus on one single type of ale most popular at the time and thus, began brewing porter. After decades of successful brewing, Guinness ales gained popularity in England and West Indies and expanded their product line to feature distinct types of porters that would be referred to as “stouts.” Even though the term “stout” was first recorded in the 1630s in reference to strong dark ales, the name was not truly popularized until the invention of Daniel Wheeler’s over malt and barley roasting process, thus allowing more precision when creating the beer’s roasted flavour.
Stouts are a close relative of porters. In fact the relationship is so close that at times it is difficult to tell where porter territory ends and stout begins. One of the more distinct differences between the two styles is that stouts, especially classic stouts commonly referred to as Irish Dry Stouts, are very dry and exhibit a distinct espresso-like bite achieved by roasting barley rather than using roasted malt. Stouts are always very dark, often pitch black with a roasted aroma of coffee beans, roasted barley and chocolate. On the other hand, classic stouts are, surprisingly enough, very light and frequently are the lightest beer you can order on tap.
Despite the sinister color, roasted character and bitterness, most stouts are below 5% ABV and are relatively low in calories, usually about half the calorie content of a lager of equal volume. Traditionally stouts are enjoyed in a variety of temperatures usually ranging from cool-but-not-cold to room temperature. Stouts may be classified into several categories; the classic Irish Dry Stout is the most common type of stout encountered. Usually when people refer to stout, it is more often than not Irish Dry Stout, specifically the Guinness Draught.
Milk Stout is a somewhat rare category of stouts initially popular in London. Milk Stout’s distinguishing characteristic is the addition of milk during the brewing process. Yeast cannot fully break down milk sugars, therefore milk sugar remains untouched and lends its sweet flavour to the beer providing a sweeter taste and resulting in lower alcohol content.
Oatmeal Stout is a relatively new kind of stout popular with craft brewers in Canada and US. Oatmeal Stouts are not made entirely out of oats as the name might imply. Raw or malted oats are added to a stout during the brewing process to imbue the beer with a rich oaty flavour and oily characteristic.
If you have ever been on a vacation in the Carribean, you have no doubt seen the Guinness Extra Stout. And if you had a chance to try it, you would also know that it is quite different from your normal Guinness Draught. This is an example of the stouts referred to as Foreign/Extra/Export Stouts. Stouts of this type were created as an export item to British colonists in the New World where they enjoyed beer, but unfortunately were too far from home to enjoy the same ales that Brits on the mainland did. To remedy the situation, brewers created a stronger type of stout, increasing its lifespan and allowing it to make the trip to the New World. This particular type of stout was brewed with West Indies in mind where it still enjoys favour of local beer drinkers.
There is also Imperial Stout which may be considered a beer style of its own. Similar to Baltic Porter, Imperial Stout is a variation of the traditional Irish and English stouts created for the Russian court of Catherine the Great. Russians enjoyed stout, but unfortunately it often spoiled before it could reach Russia by sea. In order to fulfill Russian desire for good stout, English brewers created a sturdy 10% ABV stout that would survive the trip. Imperial Stout was well received and enjoyed some popularity in Russia as well as a number of other countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. This stout exhibits most characteristics of other stouts with the exception of a significantly higher alcohol content.
Recommended food pairings for stouts are:
Classic Irish food pairing for Irish Dry Stouts to be encountered at all Irish fares are oysters. Other seafood such as calamari, mussels, crab, clam and lobster will also make a great match. A number of classic Irish dishes are already made with stout or other types of Irish beer and having a pint of stout with a hearty Irish stew will only amplify the experience. Smoked fish is a good companion for a stronger-flavoured stout, especially smoked salmon, trout and mackerel. Deserts may be complemented by stouts in similar fashion as they are by porters, although stouts are better matched with more subtle and light chocolate desserts. Rich desserts made with dark chocolate will fare well against Imperial Porter, but will overpower a lesser stout.
Stouts to try:
- Guinness Draught – This is a flagship stout most closely associated with the beer style. Fortunately it is available in most establishments where quality beer is served.
- Guinness Extra Stout –Pretty much the only stout and the only Guinness available in the West Indies, great example of the Foreign Stout type.
- Duke of Wellington Imperial Stout – A new brew from Duke of Wellington Brewery that will give you a pretty good idea of what Imperial Stouts are like.
- McAuslan St.Ambroise Oatmeal Stout – A delicious brew from Quebec’s finest. Scarce on tap in the GTA and only available at some LCBO stores, but well worth the effort.