The Stout: In Honor of St. Patrick (and beyond…)

Happy March! This is the month of leprechauns, the vernal equinox, women’s history month, and….the STOUT! So before we start drinking the heck out of this style, here is a little bit about it’s early roots…

The humble origin of the Stout harkens back to January, when we investigated the history of the Porter. As you may recall, the Stout emerged as the younger and, well, stout-ier brother: the style “Stout Porter” referred to a stronger version of the Porter (at 7-8% instead of the typical Porter 6%).  So, the term “Stout” was more an adjective than a style. Eventually, the original Porter fell by the wayside–but are you surprised? The Stout Porter was stronger and richer than the original–and who doesn’t love a strong and rich man–er, beer?  Well, the Stout was loved so much, that doctors actually prescribed Stouts, so to speak, to athletes and nursing mothers to help them regain strength–or, in other words, regain their Stoutness. Stouts, Porters, and Stout Porters lost their popularity in England when a restriction was placed on making roasted malts during World War I, at which time the mild Ale won over the hearts of the Brits. However, it took the Irish population by a malty storm!

Stout Propaganda: "Guinness is Good For You"

Arthur Guinness opened his Dublin brewery in 1759, producing (along with an Ale) what can be considered the first Stout Porter.  (In 1799, Arthur made a wise decision to focus solely on Porter production–that’s why we see no Guinness Ales today.)  In the mid-1800s, the ‘Porter’ nomenclature was dropped, and thanks to keen advertising and calculated exporting, Guinness (with the help of other Irish breweries Murphy’s and Beamish & Crawford) made the Stout one of the most ubiquitous beers in the Western World.  Of course, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for this smooth brew: in the 1800s, Stouts became less popular, as it was expensive to produce based on the types of grains needed; and as mentioned earlier, the WWI restriction on roasting malts halted production in England, leaving the job to the mighty Irish. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when beer writers such as Michael Jackson (the beer god, not the music god) took an interest in the style, that the Stout was resurrected.

Throughout its development, a number of stout variations emerged, in England, Ireland, and beyond. The following will be included in this month’s beernalysis!

The Stout Styles

English Stout: The first to appear on the scene, the English Stout is notable for its black color and use of charred barley, which gives the beer a roasted, coffee taste. Chocolate Stouts are characterized under English Stouts; the malts in a Chocolate Stout are left in the kiln until they develop a chocolate taste and color.  (In some cases, actual chocolate is also added to the brew.)  Similarly, the malts of a Coffee Stout are roasted until they are as bitter as freshly ground coffee beans (and also, some brewers add coffee grounds to highlight the flavor).

Foreign/Export Stout: The Export Stout took the English Stout and made it a helluva lot more alcoholic to survive a journey across the sea where it was being exported. In fact, this style is still found in many tropical areas to where Stouts were first exported, such as Jamaica and Malta.

Irish Dry Stout:  The most popular of the Stouts, popularized by the aforementioned Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish. The Irish Dry Stout is the lighter of the Stout styles–it has lower carbonation and a uniquely creamy body, with a roasted and crisp taste.

Irish Stout

Milk/Cream/Sweet Stout: This is not for the lactose intolerant!  The Sweet Stout has a high content of dextrins and unfermented sugar that makes this Stout sometimes oddly sweet.  Milk/Cream Stouts are very similar to Sweet Stouts, but brewers add lactose to the brew kettle to add body and some sweetness. This was one of the beers that doctors would recommend mothers drink, because of the dairy content. In fact, one of the original Milk Stouts, Mackeson’s, claims to have 10 ounces of “pure dairy milk” in it.

Oatmeal Stout: As you can gather, Oatmeal Stouts are made with oatmeal, which is added to the mash. The major characteristic of this type of Stout is its smoothness. Oats have been used in beer production since the medieval times in Europe. It remained popular in Northern Europe, but Tudor sailors hated the bitter flavor that it caused in the beer so much that it died out in other parts of Europe. There was a brief revival at the end of the 19th century, when people thought that including oats would be healthy.  (But, of course, that’s like eating a bar of dark chocolate, washing it down with a bottle of red wine, and saying you did it for heart health.)  Subsequent Oatmeal Stouts used a very little bit of oats. When Michael Jackson wrote about the Oatmeal Stout in the 1970s, a European distributor commissioned the Samuel Smith Brewery to recreate the style; thus, their Oatmeal Stout has become one to imitate. The Oatmeal Stout can now be found in new incarnations all throughout the world, from Denmark to Australia. Fair warning, though: don’t expect it to taste like downing a big bowl of oatmeal; the uniqueness of this beer is in its smooth body.  (Oatmeal is used as a major component of moisturizers, too…)

Russian Imperial Stout (sometimes just Imperial Stout): This was a whole big marketing campaign on the part of Thrale’s brewery in the 17th century to impress Catherine II of Russia, as one story goes. Another is that Peter the Great, while visiting London, loved the Porter so much, that he requested Barclay Brewery send it over to Russia. However, the beer would spoil on the trip over; thus, a stronger brew was created to survive the journey. Barclay did so by brewing a beer with a higher alcohol and hop content. Rumor has it that Catherine the Great enjoyed this new recipe so much that she ordered kegs upon kegs of it to stock her court. And if it’s good enough for the courts, it’s good enough for us.

Catherine II with an Imperial Stout. Photoshop Credit:

Oyster Stout: Oysters, you say? Oysters! Back in olde time England, Stouts were enjoyed with a full plate of oysters in the taverns. But the two were not formally combined until the 1920s in New Zealand. Later, this recipe popped up back in London, and even later, after WWII, oysters were added to Stouts as another way of trying to infuse health benefits into beer, such as the Milk Stout campaign. Today, some breweries add oysters, while others only use the name, implying that the beer should be consumed with oysters. Vegetarians, be wary!

"Guinness Guide to Oysters" / Credit: Appellation Beer

While the British Isles hold the proverbially patent on the Stout, other countries have certainly had their fun adapting the style with local ingredients and recipes. Most notably, us crafty Americans!

American Stout: American Stouts range in their tenacity and ingenuity. There really is no way to generalize the American Stout, other than that they have a tendency of materializing as some crazy renditions of the English and Irish classics (from an Imperial Milk Stout to a Chicory Coffee Stout). However, one major difference is that American Stouts will often have a stronger hop presence than their British counterparts.

And with that…we venture into this month looking for the roastiest, maltiest, sweetest stouts this world has to offer. Stay tuned and drink up!


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