A Stout is a dark beer created using roasted malt or roasted barley, hops, water, and yeast. Stouts are traditionally used as the generic term for the strongest (or stoutest) porters, made by a brewery, that have an alcohol content of about 7-8%. There are many different variations including Baltic porter, milk stout, and imperial stout. The Dry Irish stout – the best seller, is typically 4-5.5%.
The first known use of the word stout was in a document dated back to 1677, found in the Egerton Manuscript, with the sense being that a stout was a strong beer not a dark beer. The name porter was first used in 1721 to describe a dark brown beer that had been created with roasted malts. Due to the huge popularity of porters, brewers began creating them in a variety of strengths. Today, stouts can reach 17-18% or higher when barrel aged and some people push that boundary further on a yearly basis. The heaviest beers were called “stout porters”, leaving us to conclude that the history and development of stout and porter are intertwined, and the term stout has become firmly associated with dark beer, rather than just powerful beer.
Most individuals who take the plunge into the “dark side” of beer exploration are astonished to find that stouts are neither heavy nor unpleasantly strong. We have found that it is quite the opposite. Despite the dark color, stouts are created in a wide variety of diverse flavors and offerings to suit nearly any purpose or occasion. Many well-known stouts are complex and low in alcohol, with gorgeous roundedness and a touch of roastiness. The dry types are delicious and thirst quenching while the sweeter types are silky and well rounded, creating a flawless evening of paired food and beverage.
The most unique characteristic of a dry stout is the black, essentially opaque appearance. This deep color comes from the use of roasted barley. This strong ingredient used in tiny amounts, gives a stout its deep color and assertive flavor of bitter chocolate and espresso. The roasted barley also offers a drying sensation. No beer style is more linked with a single country than dry stouts are with Ireland.
The country’s brewing background has been traced back approximately five millennia. However, it is the past three hundred years, and the well-known brewing revolution in England, that directly inspired the craft and commerce in Ireland. Guinness, the most popular brewing family in Ireland, has been brewing beer in County Kildare, since the first half of the 18th century. In 1759, the heir, Arthur Guinness, moved to Dublin and leased a brewery at St. James Gate. This would later become the famous brewery that carries their name.
Some stouts brewed in England and America are sweeter or stronger than Irish dry stouts. Brewers may add milk-sugar (lactose) for sweetness, or brew with a tiny amount of oatmeal, an ingredient that adds complexity, silkiness and a hint of something sweet. Other brewers increase the chocolate and coffee notes in stout with the addition of real chocolate or coffee!
The strongest beers in the stout family (the “stoutest” stouts) are the Russian imperials. These powerful, inky beers are named for their popularity in the Russian Court of Catherine The Great. With strong flavors of espresso, dark chocolate and licorice, and an alcohol content in the range of many wines, these beers are for sipping!