Stout May be Black, but it’s not the Dark Side

types of stout

Good stout is filled with flavors like chocolate, espresso, caramel, raisin, toffee, vanilla, plums, or licorice.

Brawny, zaftig, robust and bold may seem adjectives too abstract to describe beer, but they capture the character of Stout. Stouts are ales, dark, rich, deep sepia — often nearly black, frequently featuring a ruby cast when held to the light. Stouts number among the world’s most beautiful beers.

Perhaps owing to the association of “stout” with “strong,” many novice and casual beer drinkers shy away from stouts, thinking they will be overwhelmed by something highly alcoholic or overly bitter. The color of beer, however, has nothing to do with its alcohol content. Some stout contains no more alcohol than the average fizzy, light-yellow lagers from an American macrobrewery.

Of course, some examples of stout do tilt towards the high end of the scale of beer alcohol content. Still, it’s not the alcohol, per se, that makes a stout big. Stout is made “stout” by its mass quantities of flavor, and stout’s flavors are what render it a shame that the beer novice shies away. Stout could, in many ways, make an excellent gateway into an appreciation for beer, rather than be the style that many put off to last, if they dare drink a stout at all.

The Flavors of Stout

If you think you don’t like beer, hear this: good stout may be packed to the gills with flavors like chocolate, espresso, caramel, raisin, toffee, vanilla, plums, or licorice. It can be dry and derive a bitter bite from hops, or be smooth, sweet, and creamy. The common denominator among stout’s varied flavors is a roasted character. Tasters always note that, for example, stout x tastes like roasted chocolate with a hint of plum, or roasted coffee beans.

The thick colors and dark toast elements of stout often derive from the use of highly kilned roasted barley, rather than malt, although this depends on the style of the stout. Some styles of stout depend on dark roasted malt and, despite what one might think, frequently involve a blend of malts, most notably a pale ale malt with which darker malts are blended.

At first, “stout” was more or less a synonym for “strong,” as in “stout pale ale.” Over time, however, the use of the term “stout” became more specialized. The history of stout as we know it today is bundled with the development of porter. As porter took the British Empire by storm, the stronger examples of porter began to be know as “stout porter” and, ultimately, simply stout.

Stout, however, might best be regarded as a generic term. Whether a particular brewer calls his beer a stout or a porter is largely arbitrary, a matter of preference. One brewery’s robust porter can exhibit the same general characteristics as another’s stout. The specific differences between stout and porter are not as clear-cut as the differentiation between lager and ale.

Types of Stout

Since its tenuous differentiation from porter, however, numerous sub-styles of stout have become popular across the several nations known for the brew. A well-stocked beer shop might feature several types of stout:

Chocolate Stout
derives from a dark roasted malt, but some brewers add a pinch of true chocolate
Coffee Stout
very dark malt creates coffee flavors. Sometimes coffee stout contains ground coffee and milk sugar, too
Imperial Stout
high alcohol, often aged.
Irish or Dry Stout
light and dry, a little hoppy. Think Guinness and Murphy’s.
Milk Stout
also called sweet or cream stout. Contains lactose, a milk sugar. Once prescribed for nursing mothers. Often relies on lighter malts in the blend.
Oyster Stout
yes, some Oyster Stouts are brewed with actual oysters.
Oatmeal Stout
a style perpetually in revival. Oats smooth out the texture. Often a little sweet. Versatile, it pairs well with a broad range of food.

Be bold! Stout is not the dark side of beer; its big friendly flavors loom like hugs from your mug. Do you like stout? Tell us some of your favorite beers!

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