I’ve heard many times before, people saying they can’t stand stouts; they hate them! I like to ask them, “well do you like coffee and/or chocolate?” If yes, I guarantee we can find you a stout that you’re going to love considering there are so many variations of the style!
Generally dark brown to black in color, stouts are originally an English style of beer that has also become popular among American brewers. This category also serves as a catch-all for experimental stouts that don’t fit into other stout categories. Stouts tend to have a strong roasted malt flavor that often tastes of coffee, dark/bittersweet chocolate, and/or caramel. This style usually has low sweetness and higher bitterness, and sometimes even burnt tasting. Hop flavor can run anywhere from a low to high presence. Alcohol flavors are sometimes present with an ABV usually between 4.5-7.5% and IBUs between 35-75.
Now that we have the basic break down of a stout, we can now talk about a few different sub-styles within stout. The first we’ll discuss is the English Stout – a dark beer that includes roasted malt or roasted barley, hops, water and yeast. Stouts were traditionally the generic term for the strongest or “stoutest” porters, typically 7% or 8% ABV. There are a number of variations including Baltic porter, milk stout, and imperial stout; the most common variation is dry stout AKA Irish stout, exemplified by Guinness Draught, the world’s best selling stout. Stouts are typically top-fermented beers (ale yeast), as opposed to dark lagers.
Irish stout or sometimes labeled as Dry stout, has the lowest alcohol content of the many variations of stout usually sitting in around 4-4.5% ABV. Defined by burnt, acrid, coffee-like flavor from roasted barley. Significant bitterness but little to no hop aroma or flavor with IBUs around 25-45. Originally a stronger version of porters, stout is now the more varied and well-known style family.
Oatmeal stout is a variation of stout utilizing oatmeal to enhance body and mouthfeel. It displays a balance somewhere between an Irish stout, and a sweet stout, but often tends towards sweetness with a full, creamy, soft mouthfeel. ABV is typically between 4.2-5.9% and has 25-40 IBUs.
Sweet stouts display lower bitterness than most stouts to emphasize malt flavor and sweetness, A sub-style of sweet stout known as milk stout, is further sweetened by adding lactose. ABV sits in at 4-6% with 20-40 IBUs. Fun fact: Milk stout was first marketed in the early 1900s as a nutritious drink for nursing mothers.
Foreign Extra Stout Can range from sweet to dry, with roasted grain character obvious but not sharp. Fruitiness can be low to high, diacetyl medium to none. Hop bitterness can be medium to high with IBUs between 35 and 70. Originally high-gravity stouts brewed for tropical markets. Some bottled export versions of dry or sweet stout may also fit this profile. Roasted grain aromas prominent, fruitiness is medium to high, and diacetyl low to medium. It occasionally has the aroma of alcohol, with an ABV anywhere from 5-7%.
The roasty coffee flavors of the American stout form the malt base of this beer, supported by moderate citrus, and resinous American hops in flavor, aroma, and bitterness. 5-7% ABV and 35-75 IBUs. The American stout is a variation of the Foreign Extra Stout.
The Imperial or Double stout was originally born from the British porter tradition, this high alcohol dark ale was very popular with the Russian imperial court in the early 1800s. Today, Imperial stout is most commonly produced by American brewers. It is characterized by intense roasted flavors of coffee and chocolate with medium to high hop bitterness (50-90 IBUs.) Dark and dried fruit notes are common. The additional alcohol (8-12% ABV) may impart a warming quality to the mouthfeel. These tend to be great beer for aging in the cellar!
The Russian Imperial stout is almost identical to the Imperial stout, many arguing they are one in the same. As for me, I find subtle differences in both. Inspired by brewers back in the 1800’s to win over the Russian Czar, this is the king of stouts, boasting high alcohol by volumes and plenty of malt character. Low to moderate levels of carbonation with huge roasted, chocolate and burnt malt flavors, and often dry. Suggestions of dark fruit and flavors of higher alcohols are quite evident. Hop character can vary from none, to balanced to aggressive with a very strong presence of bitterness. It tends to have more of a balancing malt presence, fruity English yeast, and earthy/spicy English hop character; instead of tropical/citrus/resinous American hop character and clean American Ale yeast.
Brewers tend to use many adjuncts in beer, such as coffee and/or chocolate to amplify the roasty flavors and aromas. Vanilla, peppers, nuts, and spices are also common along with many other flavorings. One unique sub-style of stout using a wild adjunct is the Oyster stout. Its pretty much exactly what it sounds like. But don’t get scared, its not fishy tasting. It adds earthiness, salinity, and minerality. Oysters have actually had a long association with stout, and is not something new. When stouts were emerging in the 18th century, oysters were a cheap commonplace food often served in public houses and taverns. By the 20th century, oyster beds were in decline, and stout had given way to the pale ale. Ernest Barnes came up with the idea of combining oysters with stout using an oyster concentrate. It was first sold by the Dunedin Brewery Company in New Zealand in 1938, with the Hammerton Brewery in London, UK, beginning production using the same formula the following year. Hammerton Brewery was re-established in 2014 and is once again brewing an oyster stout. Modern oyster stouts may be made with a handful of oysters in the barrel, hence the claim of one establishment, the Porterhouse Brewery in Dublin, that their award-winning Oyster Stout was not suitable for vegetarians. Others, such as Marston’s Oyster Stout, use the name with the implication that the beer would be suitable for drinking with oysters.
Now you are a porter, and stout wiz. I suggest to start stocking up now on stouts with higher ABVs and hold onto them for the colder months. They will surly warm you up. A lot of big stouts tend to actually be released in the cooler months. I always like grabbing a few bottles when they are released, and saving them for the following year, which will allow any heat from the alcohol to cool off. Check out our post about aging beers correctly to learn more!